Initial Achievements from Small Forest Protection Groups In Ho Muoi village, Minh Son commune, Huu Lung district of Lang Son province

    In 2013, Local authorities in Huu Lung district [1], Lang Son province with the supports of CIRUM as a small pilot project in lobbying, have succeeded in withdrawing 59.6 ha of forest land from Dong Bac Forestry Company to reallocate to Ho Muoi  villagers promising re-forestation and regeneration for natural forest with diversified local timber species. A Forest Land Allocation Program (FLAP) has been done for households and community. After FLAP, an issue needs to be addressed is on how are community activities organized in a participatory approach for sustainable forest management. There are different obstacles during the implementation process. One of the causes is the poor local leadership at village level and lack of involvement of local authorities. A LandNet coordinator in Huu Lung came up with an idea of having household groups for community forest management instead of a management board in general. The idea turned out being adaptable with the local conditions. Since having the specific forest management groups and the more involvement of local authorities, local people are aware of their roles in community forests protection. The group leaders play key role as group coordinators facilitating groups’ activities in forest management.
    Background and key issues
    In the beginning of 2013, Huu Lung District People Committee (DPC) released two official decisions[2] to take back 59.6 ha of forest land from Dong Bac Forestry Company. Throughout the year, CIRUM was working as a consultant supporting the district authority to re-allocate the taken forest land to households and local community in Ho Muoi village, Minh Son commune of Huu Lung. In the end of 2013, 42 households and local community had their forestland allocated. Specifically, 21.8 ha of the forestland were reallocated to community for management and protection; another 37.8 ha were reallocated to households who are living surrounding so that it is more convenient for them to look after the community forest. To this end, the villagers agreed to set up a Village Forest Management (VFM) Board with local regulation and plans of forest regeneration using local timber trees.
    However, the VFM Board had not fulfilled its responsibility for forest protection and development. The Board’s activities seemed to be passive. In addition, involvement of local authorities was not strong enough. As a result, community activities such as forest tending, making nursery and forest plantation were not well organized and having less participation of local villagers. Encroachment, Eucalyptus plantation and forest fires still happened in the community forest areas. Even some of internal conflicts over forest land use were hidden. To work out solutions, Huu Lung LandNet Coordinator, Mr. Le Kien Cuong, decided to organize different meetings with villagers and local authorities to discuss for solution. After a number of discussions, it was concluded that absence of real local leadership/facilitators that were able to coordinate community activities with participation of villagers and lack of involvements of local authorities were key causes leading the troubles. 
    Solutions and impact
    Witnessing the commune leaders and the villagers struggling to manage their community forest, at a meeting with the 42 households’ representatives and the communal leaders organized in October 2015, Mr. Cuong, has suggested setting up household groups for convenience for community forest management, instead of a VFM board in general. Each group would compose of households who are from the same clan or living close to each other for better organize activities for forest management and development; importantly each group has one group leader whose responsibilities are to facilitate community activities such as forest tending, making nursery and forest plantation and management. Each group legalizes its activities by contracting with the village leader under CPC and DPC’s approval and certification. The contract has to specify future benefit sharing among group members from approved harvested timber and NTFPs collection from the community forests as well as their contributions to the forest development fund and management fees. Mr. Cuong’s initiative is experienced from his visits to different models in forest management in Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Kon Tum.
    This suggestion is agreed by local authorities and the villagers. The villagers agreed to form 4 groups having up to 10 members of each group. Group leaders (mainly LandNet members) are those whose voices respected by the community and often the head of their clans. The group leaders have organized group meetings to discuss with the members on how to work together for community activities. After discussion among members, it is decided that one of the most important activities need to reconfirm for clarification is to identify forest boundaries for each group for better management. To this end, they asked CIRUM’s mapping experts to support this job. Right after, CIRUM came to do practical training on site for mapping by GPS with villagers. As a result, boundaries between forest land areas among groups for management are well identified with fully participation of group members. Each group also has its own contract with the village leader, which is approved by the CPC and DPC.

    Representatives of Ho Muoi forest management groups, communal authority and village leaders discussing about community forest management/Photo:CIRUM

    The principle underlining the four groups’ activities is to reforestation and regeneration for forest biodiversity by planting and protecting local timber species and stopping Eucalyptus plantations. Therefore, the forest management groups have proposed setting up a nursery to develop local timber species in the area. To this end, CIRUM’s technical staff helps the villagers to make the nursery, especially to practice how to work together for community activities; step by step, the members see their roles in involvement for forest management which is very much interlinked with their daily life. As a result, the group members often have meetings and discussions together to make plan for implementing activities. They regularly take care of the nursery as their tasks. They often go to the forest to see if something happened so that to inform to the group leader for solutions. The villagers are better aware of roles of the group leader in coordinating community activities for community forest management and protection. The group leaders play as community facilitators encouraging the group members to involve in planting and taking care of local forestry trees in their community forests. Apparently, group leaders are determinants to the success of community activities.   

    Ho Muoi villagers take part in making local timber nursery/Photo: CIRUM

    Mr Cuong also realized the vital role of the local authorities in enhancing the community activities; therefore, he has made his efforts in connecting Huu Lung DPC and Minh Son CPC to the local community. In February 2016, he has persuaded the DPC and CPC to launch an event of planting local forestry trees on Ho Muoi community forest area. In that event, the villagers, district’s representatives and commune’s representatives planted more than 1000 local timber species, including Lim, Lat Hoa and Muong all over the community forest. The DPC and CPC expressed their impressions about organization of the community in forest management and development by local timber species.  Minh Son CPC’s representatives have confirmed that the CPC is willing to involve in preventing planting Eucalyptus trees for forest regeneration and soil improvement.
    Remaining issues
    Aside from the initial achievements, there are still many difficulties requiring more efforts from local leaders and local authorities on their journey of sustaining and developing the community forest. Few households still grow Eucalyptus on the community forest area. Although Eucalyptus grows fast and produces quick incomes for the villagers, its mono-plantation is degrading forest biodiversity and soil erosion . This violation needs to be stopped as soon as possible to prevent its scaling up and thus, it is reduced community conflicts at present and future.

    [1] It is included Minh Son Communal People Committee and HuuLung District People Committee
    [2] At two official Decisions No. 502 và 503/QĐ-UB issued by Huu Lung DPC dated  25/1/2013