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seriously bad in terms of deforestation."
Of a landmass totalling about 30 million
hectares, Vietnam in 1943 had 14.3 million ha
of forest; 42% of this area was destroyed in the
period to 1995.
"When I first went to Vietnam in 1988,
we drove from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi
several times," Mr Midgley says. "The drive was
characterised by bare hills---lots and lots of
Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has been
implementing a major reforestation program.
Australian research has played a small but
important role, helping create a new industry
along the way. What is astounding about this
initiative is that by 2012 Vietnam's wooded area
had increased to 13.7 million ha, remaining
native forests had been protected, and tree
plantations supply a thriving timber-growing,
processing and furniture-export industry
that directly benefits once desperately poor
smallholder farmers and rural communities.
Vietnamese commitment, skill and
entrepreneurship were fundamental to this
dramatic turnaround. So too was an Australian
export---carefully selected Australian tree
Central to Australia's involvement is CSIRO's
Australian Tree Seed Centre (ATSC) in Canberra,
the gene bank that maintains a collection
of Australian tree species. It provides seed
internationally, in addition to conducting
Over the years, CSIRO's work in Vietnam
has been brokered through a number of aid
organisations, starting with the United Nation's
World Food Programme and including AusAID.
Long-term financial support from ACIAR
commenced in 1993, with direct co-investment
In addition to Mr Midgley, lead roles
were taken by CSIRO's Dr Chris Harwood
and Khongsak Pinyopusarerk. Subsequently,
Dr Sadanandan Nambiar initiated work on
plantation forest sustainability; although
currently retired, he continues as a CSIRO
Honorary Fellow, assisting Vietnamese
colleagues in the use of forestry to reduce
poverty. Ten years ago Mr Midgley left CSIRO
and is now a forestry-services provider to Asian
and Australian forest partnerships.
"Vietnam's local tree species are, by and
large, slow growing and hard to establish on
sites that have experienced severe degradation,"
Dr Harwood says. "So in the mid-to-late-1980s
the Vietnamese were evaluating a range of
alternative tree species suitable for producing
wood on short rotations on degraded sites."
Some Australian tree varieties are well
known for hardiness, fast growth rates and
ability to tolerate poor soils, making them
of interest to the Forest Science Institute of
In Vietnam it was several species of Acacia---
the genera that supplies Australia with its
national floral emblem, the Golden Wattle---
that proved especially important.
"Acacia wood is suitable for paper
production and suitably managed plantations
can produce high-quality timber for furniture
manufacture," Dr Harwood says. "While the
furniture industry is important to Vietnam---
worth more than $3.9 billion annually---
Vietnam imports over three-quarters of the
industry's log requirements. Acacia plantations
are playing a role replacing some of these
Today in Vietnam, Acacia trees cover an
estimated 2% of Vietnam's land surface.
Plantations---about half of them cultivated by
smallholder farmers---supply about 10 million
green tonnes of wood a year to saw and
woodchip mills. In turn, the mills provide
employment and business opportunities that
further sustain rural development.
All the while the Acacia trees are providing
vital environmental services, such as preventing
soil erosion and providing a stepping stone to
rehabilitate land that was formerly native forest.
"As far as Vietnam is concerned, Acacia is
a very good choice," Dr Nambiar says. "It is a
fantastic pulp tree and increasingly a good
furniture timber tree. Unlike eucalypts, Acacia
provide an important ecosystem service: they
fix atmospheric nitrogen and improve soil for
the next crop or generation.
"They are relatively easy to cultivate and
grow quickly so that smallholders can achieve
all these benefits in 6--10 years, throughout
Vietnam's climate zones, from the tropical south
to the subtropical north," Dr Nambiar says.
"The genetically improved Acacia trees are
growing in soils where I would have thought
few other species would grow properly and
that allows the plantations to contribute to the
livelihood of rural communities," he says. "The
trees have that kind of versatility."
When Vietnam started evaluating Acacia
species it contacted the ATSC to access well-
documented seed collections. With about
1,000 Acacia species it was important to get
the right ones that could sustain scientific tree
evaluations and subsequent tree-breeding
"You put in trials to compare different
species and within each species you compare
provenances, which are different geographical
varieties of the species," Dr Harwood says. "By
the early 1990s we knew which would be the
best-performing Acacia and Eucalyptus species
The main Acacia species selected were
A. auriculiformis and A. mangium. A third
species, A. crassicarpa, proved suitable for
seasonally flooded sites since it has some
tolerance to being submerged.
Between 1993 and 2004, ACIAR supported
two consecutive projects---'Seeds of Australian
trees' (SAT) and 'Domestication of Australian
trees' (DAT)---to help build technical capacity
in Vietnam and support the selection and
provision of Australian tree germplasm. This
enabled the Research Centre for Forest Tree
Improvement (RCFTI) to establish broad-based
breeding populations and seed orchards
of 'pure' Acacia species (A. auriculiformis,
A. mangium and A. crassicarpa) from which to
produce improved seed of these species and
Dr Chris Harwood with Pham Xuan Dinh from the Forest Science Institute of Vietnam evaluating
sustainable plantation management strategies at an Acacia trial at Dong Ha in Central Vietnam.
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