Supporting sustainable use of forests by the Van Kieu ethnic minority people

Khe Nuoc Trong forest, Vietnam Photo: Roger Safford
Khe Nuoc Trong forest, Vietnam Photo: Roger Safford

Full project title:

Conserving biodiversity, respecting rights, alleviating poverty: Supporting sustainable use of forests by the Van Kieu ethnic minority people in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam


Even though forested and mountainous areas in Vietnam are considered rich in natural resources, they are some of the country’s poorest regions. 

Quang Tri Province, situated in north-central Vietnam, is one of the poorest Provinces in the country; it is frequently affected by typhoons and was heavily bombed and sprayed with defoliants during the Vietnam war.

The Van Kieu is an ethnic minority people with a total population in Vietnam of only 74,506, of which 55,079 (73.9%) live in Quang Tri. They are largely residing around two protected areas - Dakrong and Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserves.

The Van Kieu in these areas are extremely poor and are heavily dependent on forest resources such as wood and non-timber forest products (NTFPs). For example, a study at Huc Nghi commune (Dakrong District, Quang Tri), in 2010, classified over 50% of households as poor/hungry, on average the land available for the staple rice cultivation was only 0.04 ha per capita, and the level of dependency on forest resources for household subsistence was high: from 38% to 70% of household income, with 100% of households participating in forest product exploitation for subsistence use and/or for sale.

Surveys also show severe, ongoing depletion of forest resources, caused by over-exploitation (especially by or for outsiders for commercial purposes), disturbance, and increased conversion of forest land into other uses. Local people have to go further into the forest to get forest products that once used to be abundant around their living area, and in many cases are only cheap labourers collecting raw materials from “their” forests for outside middlemen. In most accessible areas, hunting and trapping has reduced populations of large and medium-sized mammals and birds to the point of local extinction, resulting in so-called “empty forests”. Affected species include the Critically Endangered Edwards’s Pheasant Lophura edwardsi, known only from this area of Vietnam and considered to be on the brink of global extinction in the wild.

Forest is the most valuable asset for local and indigenous people, and sustainable management of natural forest resources is critical to alleviating poverty in the Van Kieu community as well as the conservation of the area’s unique biodiversity.

Until recently the Van Kieu had limited formal rights to manage and use forest resources. However, recent forest laws and policies piloting forest co-management provide an opportunity to rectify this. State owned forest land outside Nature Reserves may now be allocated to local households or communities for management and use – issuance of land certificates helps to formalise land ownership and provides security of tenure which gives people confidence to manage the land sustainably and for the long-term.

This project, implemented by the Viet Nature Conservation Centre (in collaboration with the Forest Department of Quang Tri Province) and supported through BirdLife’s Local Empowerment Programme and Forests of Hope Programme, is helping to meet the urgent need for successful working examples of communities managing forest resources and sharing benefits from conservation, in order to demonstrate the potential of the co-management approach.

The project’s strategy is to strengthen the natural asset base through a process which will ensure that forest-dependent communities can gain and maintain access to their natural assets (i.e. forest land and its resources); use those assets more sustainably to improve their livelihoods and ensure benefits to future generations; and contribute to environmental protection and conservation of biodiversity.


Key activities include:

  • Supporting the issuing of certificates for land outside nature reserves (land allocation), and assisting with negotiated forest product use agreements for these areas.
  • Facilitating dialogue between local communities, relevant local authorities and private sector interest groups (the existing, external, business-linked exploiters), helping to secure licences for forest product exploitation by the Van Kieu from within the nature reserves.
  • Strengthening institutions - essential for the effective management of shared resources.
  • Providing training, materials and resources, to help build management systems and processes, and develop technical skills, to build local organisation capacity for sustainable NRM.
  • Supporting livelihoods based on sustainable use of natural resources from forests inside and outside the nature reserves through training on harvesting methods and forest enrichment to increase productivity of forest resources.


This project is supported by a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation.