Community-based forest protection
As allocated forest lands are some distance from villages, the cost to individual households and self-governing groups of conforming to land-use duties and requirements is relatively high. As a consequence, cooperative governance structures were piloted to establish whether or not economies of scale would lower land-use conformance costs.
Within each cooperative, two operational forest protection and control units were created. Forest protection within each cooperative was implemented through a three-way contract between these units and the self-governing groups. Under the contracts, the self-governing groups are required to: pay an annual fee to the annual forest protection fund (to fund the activities of the forest protection and control units, and to support the administration costs of the community cooperative and alliance of community cooperatives); detect forest violations and report them immediately; self-monitor and ensure forest protection regulations are being followed; and meet regularly to exchange information on forest decisions, issues and forest protection fees.
The forest protection unit is required to: develop and implement forest protection plans, patrol and manage illegal actions, maintain signage, maintain a 24-hour violations hotline, collect evidence of violations and deliver it to the appropriate authority for action, and monitor forest change and development (by area and volume). The control unit is required to: independently monitor the performance of forest protection plans and the overall contract, maintain a grievance mechanism, manage a sanctions mechanism, work in collaboration with the cooperative in regards to violations, and provide recommendations on how forest protection collaboration with commune committees and the District People’s Committee can be improved.
In addition, each of the cooperatives has agreed to protect neighbouring cooperatives’ forests by signing a community convention for forest protection. This convention was implemented through the alliance of community cooperatives.
Although there are no quantitative measures of improved forest protection, the self-governing groups, cooperatives and communes have all reported improvements, especially a reduction in illegal harvesting of fuel wood, over the last 18 months. The exception to this is continued illegal logging in remote parts of Phuong Giao and Dan Tien forest areas. CERDA and the relevant cooperatives are continuing to work closely with the government on this matter.
Incentives for participation
The intervention involved 1 112 households in 67 self-governing groups. To encourage participation, the intervention provided the following benefits:
- As it will take time for performance-based payments to reach the self-governing groups, until these funds are disbursed, interim financial support to self-governing groups was provided through an agricultural microcredit revolving fund. Access to the revolving fund was conditional upon self-governing groups paying an annual fee to the annual forest protection fund (see section on Community-based forest protection). The revolving fund is managed through a contract between the self-governing groups and the cooperatives. The pilot intervention provided initial capital of VND 1 010 000 000 to the revolving fund. The revolving fund provides finance for self-governing groups to purchase agricultural inputs. The cost of agricultural inputs must be repaid at the end of each growing season. The self-governing groups benefit from interest-free access to finance and economies of scale that lower the costs of agricultural inputs. In the first growing season, the self-governing groups were able to purchase 231 925 kg of fertiliser. It is estimated that this fertiliser cost less and was of much better quality than previous purchases.
- Additional benefits of a cooperative include the creation of a legal entity and the social relations that enable individual households to achieve goals that they might not otherwise be able to achieve by themselves. As such, the cooperatives enable self-governing groups to improve product and service quality, and reduce risks. They also empower their members economically and socially by involving them in decision-making processes that create additional rural employment opportunities, or by enabling them to become more resilient to economic and environmental shocks.
- CERDA has also provided various kinds of support for local agriculture as rewards for households’ involvement. Helped by the director’s background as an agricultural expert, CERDA has implemented various ‘livelihood improvement activities’, such as making domestic compost to reduce reliance on chemical fertilisers.
- It is assumed that the improvements in community forest protection from this intervention will result in an increase in carbon stocks. The intention is to reward the self-governing groups for increasing carbon stocks through results-based payments. The four cooperatives have developed a community-based monitoring information system to support this process. As forest protection is conducted collectively across the four cooperatives, it was agreed to distribute the results-based payment uniformly across the forest area. The results-based payment process will be delivered through two contracts: i) between the alliance of community cooperatives and the cooperatives; and ii) between the cooperatives and self-governing groups. A draft version of the contract will be discussed in August 2016. It is proposed that the results-based payment will be executed by transferring ownership of the capital of the agricultural microcredit revolving fund from the cooperatives to the self-governing groups. It should be noted that although ownership of the capital will be transferred to the self-governing groups, they have agreed that the capital will remain in the revolving fund. The pilot intervention has only provided enough capital for 1.5 years of results-based payments. After this, the community cooperatives will be ready to join a results-based forest protection programme, as the allocated forest user.