Baseline Information of Vietnam

Indigenous Peoples, Forest and REDD in Vietnam

Vietnam is situated in the Indochinese peninsular bordering with China, Laos and Cambodia. Vietnam is home to 54 groups of nationalities. The majority group of Kinh accounted 87% of the total population. The ethnic minorities accounted for only 13% of the total population but made up 39.3% of the poor population according to the Vietnam Household Living Standard Survey of 2004 (WB, 2007). Most ethnic communities are located in remote and difficult areas, which account for three-fourths of the land area of the whole country.

Land and Forest Policy

The overall aim of the government’s land policy is to legalize people’s ownership of land and transfer the management and use rights to forest and agricultural enterprises or collective units. This policy requires elimination of private landownership set up during the French colonial period, establishment of agricultural cooperatives and land-use rights to these organizations, and movement of people from plains to mountainous areas to set up new economic zones. In the late 1950s and early 1960s in the northern mountainous areas, landownership was given to farmers for a short period and then transferred to state agricultural cooperatives. Forests were managed by state agricultural and forest enterprises. During the 1970s and 1980s, almost all forest areas in the Central Highlands were managed by these entities. In Dak Lak, these state organizations managed more than 86% of the total forest area; the staff working for these organizations accounted for 20% of the total population. To deal with forest degradation, the State issued in the 1980s a policy of land and forest allocation to cooperatives and households. This policy was expanded during the late 1980s and especially after promulgation of the Land Code in 1993. In mountainous areas, the Government started allocating arable land to households and collective units. A large area of land that previously belonged to state organizations is being transferred to the people to manage. In the Central Highlands, the land area managed by the State has been reduced by 26%. However, the State still manages 44% of the total forest area.

Changes in ownership of forests

The traditional structure of ownership of land and forest has been replaced, resulting in limited access to them by ethnic minorities. In the past, between and within communities, ownership of land and forest was regulated by a system of highly effective customary laws and traditional rules. Recent studies on customary laws of highland indigenous groups show that this system harmoniously and effectively regulated the relationship between the communities and the ecosystems as well as the social relationships between communities. From 1975 to the 1980s, the Central Highlands underwent this process with drastic changes. Many indigenous communities in the mountainous areas faced reduced living areas including their farmland and the forest areas that acted as reserves for resources that provide essential products for their daily lives. The legal and management systems of land and forest are now unclear, do not consider traditional heritage, and lack solutions to protect disadvantaged groups. Thus, ethnic minorities are losing their lands; land disputes are increasing. Upland cultivation as practiced by many ethnic minority groups is a production system that uses the slash-and-burn technique and discontinuous cultivation in each piece of land. The campaign on fixed settlement and cultivation has limited the mobility of ethnic minority communities, but progress in improving their crop yields has not matched their population growth rate and the decreasing size of their farmland. The allocation of land and forest to individual households has transformed much of the former common property of the community. Households of the groups that practiced shifting cultivation were also allocated a few hectares for cultivation, with ownership for 20 to 30 years. The result is very short fallow periods and consequent impoverishment and erosion of the soil. This has been the case, for example, in some villages in Ia Mnong commune.

State Policies and Legislations on Indigenous Peoples

Vietnamese Governments have paid a great deal of attention to the development of ethnic minorities. One of the reasons for this is that ethnic minorities are among the poorest groups in Vietnam. Therefore, many policies have been targeted to the ethnic minority development in Vietnam. Prior to 1998, 21 national targeted projects were implemented to invest in the ethnic minority and mountainous areas. A more logical policy system was developed after that year, including the Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction program, Program 135, Program 134, and policies on land, forest, education and health, etc., which aimed to cover all economic, cultural and social fields.

The Policy of Support for Ethnic Minority Households in Extremely Difficult Circumstances

This policy was initially called the Program to Support Ethnic Minority Households in Extremely Difficult Circumstances and was established under Decision 826/QD-TTg of 1995. Its original objective was to support ethnic minorities whose populations are below 10,000 persons. Since 2007, a revised orientation has put more focus on production development for ethnic minorities living in extremely difficult circumstances. Under Decision 32/2007/QD-TTg, a system of loans for ethnic minorities living in extremely difficult circumstances was established. Further projects targeting seven ethnic groups with small populations (the Si La, Brau, Ro Mam, Pu Peo, Odu, La Hu, and Cong) have recently been proposed.