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A step towards the restoration of Central Highland forests

Y Thu is an Sedang woman. At only 29 years old, she has been the head of Tu Mo Rong village for several years. As a child of the Central Highland, Y Thu is always concerned about how her community can both protect and earn a living from the forest.

Tu Mo Rong village in Kon Tum province has 66 households, all of Sedang ethnicity and including 27 poor households. Each of them has about 2 hectares of forest land and most of the people depend on the forest for house timber, firewood, and daily food intakes such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms, or vegetables. However, such resources are increasingly exhausted so it is very difficult for people to live on the forest. Despite governmental programs and policies to support people to develop their forest-based livelihoods, shortcomings still remain. For example, many people do not have enough forest land to invest in afforestation. Moreover, though forests are traditionally interlinked with the life of villagers, they cannot live off the forest, which is a distressing problem to village chief Y Thu. She then dreamed that one day her own village could be able to protect and earn from the forest nearby.

Ms. Y Thu in a policy consultation workshop. Photo: @Nguyen Huu Thia/CARE

That was why during the EU-funded project Promoting Land Rights for Ethnic Minority People in Vietnam (or Land and Rights project), Y Thu was very happy to be invited to policy consultation workshops. She could then provide comments on the draft revision to the law on forest protection and development. This would help her understand more about the practice in other provinces and share her opinions and her community on issues related to forests. She is also an active member of LandNet, a network of ethnic minority farmers and organizations and individuals interested in advocating for the land rights of ethnic minority communities in Vietnam and the Mekong region.

This was the first time that Y Thu had participated in such a workshop, so she had a lot of anxiety and shyness. Gradually, she became more confident in speaking out her opinion. She was eager to learn that local communities living next to natural forests should the right to protect forests and conserve their biodiversity. They should also have the right to collect forest products for their daily needs, to practice beliefs linked to forests and traditional culture, and to use their local knowledge in protecting and developing the forests.

Another topic that interested Y Thu was the demarcation of the forest boundary. She learnt that the demarcation sign posts should enclose local language to make it easy to understand for local people, that the forms of forest ownership should be clearer for the people to know their rights and invest in the forest in a longer term. Together with other villagers, Y Thu documented all the concerns and expectations they experienced and sent them to relevant members of the National Assembly.  Y Thu also shared what she learnt in various workshops with other villagers so all could better understand the law on forest protection and development.

Y Thu (standing) was commenting on the revised draft Law on Forest Protection and Development, a.k.a the Forestry Law. @Nguyen Huu Thia / CARE

Y Thu’s dream became true when the Forestry Law, ratified by the National Assembly on 15 November  2017, recognised the rights of ethnic minority communities to traditional forest land. In addition, within the framework of the Land and Rights project implemented by CIRUM and CARE International in Vietnam, Y Thu’s village and the neighbouring Dak Chum village were handed over 539 hectares of forest land. Previously, the poor management had led to many trees cut down and over-exploitation. After the community was given the official ownership, they became more active in managing and protecting the forest.

With the technical and financial support from the project, Y Thu and 10 other families in the village set up a group to try planting Ngoc Linh ginseng. This is a valuable medicinal herb that is suitable with the climate and soil in Tu Mo Rong and has a high economic value.

“If there are further resources to expand the plantation of Ngoc Linh ginseng , surely many other women would like to join,” said Y Thu. The women in the group regularly take care of the ginseng garden, which is in the forest at about 1,400 meters higher than the sea level, while their husbands assign each other to guard the forest at night. The neighbouring Dak Chum village is doing the same thing.

Now that Y Thu’s dream has come true, she now hopes that her community can live well off the forest and that the vast forests of the Central Highlands will soon be revived.

 

For the first time, people in Tu Mo Rong commune officially own the forest land and manage the forests. Photo: @Giang Vu / CARE

 

Representatives of the women’s group planting Ngoc Linh ginseng in a group photo with leaders of local authorities and staff of CIRUM. Photo: @2018 CIRUM.