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The role and significance of village and community forest in ethnic minority communities in Vietnam

  • In the long historical development of Vietnam, the village, which is referred to in different ethnic minority languages as làng, bản, thôn, buôn, bon, phum, sóc, ấp[1] has become a forest owner, and has obtained a very important role in forest management and protection. The village within an ethnic minority group manages forests collectively on the basis of its community customs, religion, social arrangement for livelihoods and forest protection. The aforementioned traditional cultural values of ethnic groups have been recognized and respected by many regimes.
    In comparison to other types of forest owners, the village community traditionally manages collective forests in a different way: (i) A village in an ethnic minority group is an organized society which contains institution for the self-arrangement of society and the self-management of natural resources. An organized village community is headed by elders or a village head who are selected by villagers, and who are accepted and respected by community members; (ii) A village sets up its own mechanism for effective management of forest on the basis of local religion and unwritten village regulation, or, in other word, customary law; (iii) Village collective management of forests aims at the common interests and benefits of the community in terms of culture, religion, living environment (including water sources), and support for the daily life of local people, such as collecting non-timber products for domestic use rather than for trade.
    The following parts provide concrete evidence from various ecological areas in Vietnam. In reality, village communities in ethnic minority groups have an important role in the management and protection of forests according to their customary laws.
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    [1] According to a term provided by Decree 17/HĐBT in 1992 of the Government on guiding to implement Law on Forest Protection and Development of 1991.