These smallholders once grew mostly subsistence crops. But they battled with sandy soil and heavy winds – tough conditions made worse by lingering effects of bombing during the 1960s war. Illegal logging and sheer desperation threatened survival of the remaining natural forest.
In the 1990s, the Vietnam Government launched reforestation programmes to help address rural poverty. The Quang Tri smallholders started planting acacia trees in degraded areas and on sandy dunes.
In time, they had a new income stream from selling their timber. They also found that these trees helped lessen erosion and, as soil quality improved, crop yields were better.
They organized themselves into the Quang Tri Smallholder Forest Certification Group, and in 2010, became the country’s first group to be FSC certified.
It was made up of 112 households in two villages and 249 hectares of acacia plantations. Today, with a renewed FSC certificate, the group includes 517 smallholders on 1,393 hectares of plantations in 30 sub-associations and 51 villages.
Something is working here. In fact, it’s working so well that it ripples across the world: consumers will find Quang Tri wood in furniture sold in retail giant IKEA’s stores. IKEA, working to increase its own supply of FSC-certified wood, has supported the group financially.
Furniture manufacture is a big sector in Vietnam. Export markets increasingly demand products made from FSC-certified timber, which manufacturers often have to import at great cost.
As a well-organized group, Quang Tri smallholders sell directly to local furniture manufacturers that supply IKEA, rather than pay middle-men to trade for them.
Their wood is much sought after for furniture: their forest management practices include extending rotation from 4-5 years to 9-11 years, which results in superior quality timber.
Importantly, the Vinh Tu commune in Quang Tri province is a pilot site for the Forest Certification for Ecosystem Services (ForCES) project, started in 2011 by the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and FSC with the United Nations Environment Programme. It is aimed at adapting FSC standards to emerging ecosystem services (ES) markets. ES (water, carbon, biodiversity, soil and recreation) are the life-sustaining benefits that we obtain from nature.
The intention is that FSC certification becomes a market tool for ES, allowing FSC Certificate Holders to receive benefits for responsible management of ES.
The coordinator of the FSC National Standard Development Group in Vietnam, Que Anh Vu, says the pilot suggests that the ES model can be used as a resource to provide added value to the certification model. It points to the potential of applying ES approaches to the entire Quang Tri group certification area.
Que Anh adds that the Quang Tri group certification model is a pioneer in Vietnam. “It is a tool to push for certification in vast plantation areas – around 2.5 million hectares – owned by smallholders in Vietnam,” she says. “Through better group organization, the financial and administrative burden of certification for these smallholders is reduced.”
Apart from farmers getting the economic benefits of better prices for their FSC-certified timber, “they are more aware of the social and environmental impacts of forest functions and ecosystem services”, she says. “With improved knowledge and skills, farmers know how to do their forestry business in a sustainable way with long-term purpose.”
Mauro Giuseppe Ciriminna, Policy Manager of ForCES, FSC International, points out that people in the pilot area are far more aware today of the value of their natural forests. They are producing seedlings and planting native trees alongside the acacia and around water sources.
Next up for the Quang Tri smallholders is an FSC forest management surveillance audit, including a field test of ES requirements. This will assess the impact of the management activities on the soil protection service.
If the certificate holder can demonstrate a positive or at least a zero impact, Mauro says, “then it can make additional FSC promotional claims about enhancing or maintaining ES. These new claims may attract corporate and/or government support or other marketing benefits. The system is new and will be tested in Quang Tri as part of the ForCES project.”