Growing opportunities in Vietnam

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The theme of this year’s Asia-Pacific Forestry Week is “Growing our Future,” and it focuses on the need to integrate forestry into the wider context of sustainable development.

This is an issue that is especially relevant to Vietnam. Wood is one of our country’s most valuable resources. The livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people depend on our forests and the resources they provide. Our wooden furniture industry alone employs 300,000 workers and is worth more than US$5 billion.

Over the last 40 years, though, we have seen a dramatic loss in natural forest cover, while poor forest management practices have had severe environmental impacts. Forest industries are important to our country’s development, but our future prosperity depends on managing our natural and planted forests sustainably, in a way that benefits people and nature.

Responsible forest management is becoming increasingly important for supplying export markets. The EU, the US and Australia have all introduced legislation restricting the import of illegal wood products, while an increasing number of companies are demanding Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification.

FSC logo painted on sustainably harvested logs. © N.C. Turner / WWFFSC logo painted on sustainably harvested logs. © N.C. Turner / WWF

Supplying these markets offers big opportunities for Vietnam – especially for local communities and small-scale forest owners, or “smallholders.” Smallholders in fact have a big influence over the health of Vietnam’s forests, managing the vast majority of its 2.5 million hectares of plantation forests. But how can small growers and communities reach these lucrative export markets? That’s one of the big questions that will be on the agenda at the Asia-Pacific Forestry Week, and a challenge that we’ve been trying to tackle here in Vietnam.

One successful example is provided by Forexco, a Vietnamese furniture manufacturer. The company forms long-term partnerships with small-scale growers, and is supporting them to become FSC certified through training, financial support and paying a price premium for certified wood.

Another model is provided by a project supported by WWF and IKEA in Quang Tri province, where more than 500 smallholders are now reaping the benefits of FSC certification. Not only do they earn around 15-20 per cent more than for non-certified wood, but by working together as an association they can sell directly to manufacturers seeking responsibly sourced wood, such as IKEA’s local supplier Scansia Pacific Company.

WWF has been working together with communities, timber companies and governments to improve forest management and build FSC certification through initiatives such as the Global Forest and Trade Network and Responsible Asia Forestry & Trade Partnership. But we need more companies to join the likes of Forexco and IKEA to help accelerate sustainable forest management and conserve our valuable natural resources. Together, we can create a thriving future for Vietnam’s forests and people.

Read more about how Forexco is creating sustainable opportunities for small growers.

Dr Van Ngoc Thinh is Country Director of WWF-Vietnam. 

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