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Participatory forest land allocation process a reality for Vietnamese farmers
The process of reallocating forest land to farmers in Vietnam can be carried out without conflict within local communities, thanks to a new development initiative by the Centre for Research on Initiatives of Community Development (RIC).
The aim of the initiative is to strengthen the long-term access of ethnic minorities, women, poor people and their communities to forest through a transparent and participatory reallo-cation land procedure.
RIC has been working since 2016 on developing improved participatory procedures for smallholder farmers in the province of Hoa Binh, based on initial requests from local minori-ty households.
The project, funded by the Mekong Region Land Governance project’s Innovation Fund, has stemmed from the lengthy process of reallocating forest land to local farmers, intro-duced by the Vietnamese government in the 1990s.
The responsibility for managing land allocation currently lies with State Forest Enterprises (SFE), which manage 14 per cent of the country’s total forest area.
But the process of land allocation by SFE has long been considered inefficient and detri-mental for upland farmers who are still without land.
RIC has been working with local communities in consultation with local and district-level authorities, and mass organisations like the Fatherland Front and the Farmers Union.
Earlier in December, RIC led a delegation composed of civil society organisations and local authority representatives from four Vietnamese provinces, as well as MRLG staff, to ob-serve the implementation of the project in Hoah Binh province, where 80 per cent of the population belongs to ethnic minorities and poor communities.
Village representatives from the Cao Son Commune, Da Bac district, explained to the del-egation how they planned to use forest lands within the returned area of the SFE based on RIC procedures.
Some of the returned area is protected forest land, and cannot be used for any cultivation by communities, but farmers can receive payments for environmental services.
In other returned areas, locals have already started using reallocated land for forest planta-tion or agriculture.
Before RIC began the project, local authorities were looking for ways to allocate the re-turned land to local households without increasing or instigating conflict.
Representatives of Da Bac district authorities and mass organisations explained that the reallocation process had been made more difficult due to a lack of official guidelines, expe-rience or funding for local authorities.
The RIC project introduced a systematic and inclusive approach to plan for forest land use, beginning with establishing a committee for land reallocation, that was represented by local authorities, communities’ leaders, fatherland front and other CSO’s
RIC staff trained local authorities, community leaders and CSO members in mapping land use and monitoring land use, based on criteria established by the community itself.
For example, in the case of returned forest land already in use by households, one of the criteria was to legalise its use by the families already in the area, and attribute some plots to poorer families.
The families involved were then encouraged to draft a land use map and review the plans among themselves, so as to agree together on reattributions or other changes of land use.
The process has been described as ‘smooth’ by all stakeholders; after just five months, the plans have been ready to share with local authorities, demonstrating that communities are able to solve complex tasks such as attribution of land by themselves, avoiding and resolv-ing eventual former conflicts.