My name is Hoang Thi Chuyen, a Tay ethnic woman from Viet Nam, living in Ba Khe 3 village, Cat Thinh commune, Van Chan district, Yen Bai province. I am the Chairwoman of Ba Khe 3 Women’s Union.
My family has always lived near the forest. One of my strongest memories is from 1993, when my family was very poor. Actually not only my family but others in my village as well lacked food. We only had cassava and sweet potatoes to eat. We did not have enough clothes to wear or food to eat. We were hungry. One day it was raining, but I decided to go to the forest to find bamboo and wild vegetables to sell so I could get some rice and meat for my children. I was successful that day, and my children were fully fed. I was so happy I cried.
During that time, when people in my village were very poor and many of them lived in hunger, we all often went to the forest and cut trees for selling wood. We exploited everything that we could for food and for money, without taking any action to help the forest to recover. As a result, the forest was degraded and seriously deforested.
I was worried that if me and other villagers kept doing this, then one day there would be no resources any more, or even no forest any more. I thought about how I had benefited from the forest, and I thought that only the forest could help my family escape from poverty. I discussed this with my husband, and we started planting some short-term plants like cassava and sweet potatoes to meet our food needs.
I sold my forest products and saved 100,000 Vietnam dong (USD4.50). Eventually I used that money to buy cinnamon seedlings. The first time I grew this tree, it was not 100% successful. I gradually learned from my practices and then I knew the right way to plant the tree. A couple of years later, I began growing different kinds of trees such as star anise, acacia, and magnolia. I gradually cut those trees for sale and grew their seedlings at the same time so that I could both earn money and maintain the forest and manage it in a sustainable way.
Back then, however, the forest was used freely by families that traditionally owned it. People used the forest without any form of protection and management. Forest land was not allocated for villagers, and they exploited the forest for livelihoods where and whenever they wanted or needed. When their forest ran out of resources, they came to my forest to take trees and other non-timber products. The number of trees being cut down increased a lot, and I was angry and started to worry. If this kept happening, I might lose my entire forest one day.
Even when I knew exactly who cut my trees, I could not do anything about it. I went to the head of the village and then to the communal police. Even policemen could not help me because I did not have legal rights over the forest. No one could help me. I then raised my problem in a village meeting.
Since then, through village and womens’ meetings, other villagers and I requested to have a Red Book for our forest so that we could use and manage it without being trespassed by others. In 1995, the Government gave us the Red Book. The Red Book gives individuals legal rights to their land and gives local communities the legal tools to protect our forest.
Villagers then came up with village regulations in which there were rules on forest protection as well as forms of punishment for whomever breaks the rules. I’m happy about the new regulations that can help me protect the forest. My neighbors and other villagers no longer trespassed and cut my trees any more. They respect my rights over the forest.
Other villagers witnessed my family getting out of poverty and even our well-being from forest activities. They learned from me and started changing their forest. As a very positive result, nowadays a lot of forest land is filled. Forest accounts for 70% of the total village area.
While the Red Book plays an important role in securing ownership, I know that sustainability requires appropriate knowledge, capacity, and a plan for the areas of protection, trading, planting, and more. I’ve received training in climate change and gender equity supported by a REDD+ program. Moreover, I also am involved in trainings on afforestation and economic development, which were conducted by the Farmer’s Union and Women’s Union. After the trainings I realized what to do, what to grow, and what to raise to promote long-term economic development. In addition, RECOFTC is also helping to bridge the gap between policy makers and local communities through playing the role of ‘connector’ between policy makers and local communities.
As you may know, in Vietnam particularly and in Asia in general, there were a lot of floods occurring in August 2015. That was the impact of climate change caused by deforestation. It created the polluted environment and destroyed the balance of the natural ecosystem. You and I, let’s spread the message “growing – taking care – protecting forests”. Let’s make the earth’s lung more and more green and healthy.
I am very proud and happy to be participating in the World Forestry Congress, and I wish the World Forestry Congress to be successful.
Blogpost and picture by Hoang Thi Chuyen