Home' Partners : Partners January 2013 Contents The secret of forestry's poverty-reducing prowess
While the standard of living is
improving rapidly for most of
Vietnam's 85 million people,
about 10% of the population
still live in extreme poverty.
Incomes are especially low in
mountainous rural areas in
Vietnam's north-west provinces
where subsistence agriculture
and unsustainable land use
practices prevail in ways that
trap farmers in poverty.
The north-west provinces
are home to ethnic minorities
such as the Hmong people,
who farm the steep slopes to
produce maize and upland
rice. These practices lead to
substantial loss of soil and
sedimentation of reservoirs
used for the production of
These rural areas need
and ACIAR is testing the ability
of market-linked agroforestry
systems to enhance
livelihoods, improve soils,
reduce erosion and improve
Dr Sadanandan Nambiar
says that despite trees
needing time to reach
harvest, forestry has an
important role to play in
reducing rural poverty and
Acacia plantations provide
opportunities even where
soils are poor and eroded. The
critical element is to select
and breed the right tree
species, while developing
suitable and sustainable
management practices on
behalf of farmers.
"Say a farmer grows
small blocks of Acacia, he
can thin out some trees and
sell those small, low-quality
trees for pulp and make
some money," he says. "He
can cultivate higher-quality
logs. He can then look after
the remaining trees and
increase the plantation's value
There can be a 10-fold
difference in income between
selling crooked, twisted trees
for chipping compared to
well-managed, tall, straight
trees for sawing. That means
production can be phased
to provide cycles of income
and overlapping income-
provide a basis for hybrid breeding, already
occurring in Vietnam's acacias.
The dividend today from these efforts is a
network of nurseries distributed throughout
Vietnam that supply tree growers with elite
hybrid planting stock at low cost. Since the trees
can be grown on degraded land unsuitable for
agriculture, plantation forestry has provided a
valuable cash crop for marginal land.
The Vietnamese government has reported
average productivity gains for tissue-culture-
based Acacia plantations of 20--25 extra cubic
metres of wood per hectare per year. The
faster growth rates mean that hybrids can be
harvested 2--3 years earlier than non-hybrids.
Acacia plantations also have potential as a
nurse crop for Vietnam's native tree species,
helping to extend the area covered by native
"There are some big areas in Vietnam where
you can see that happening," Mr Midgley says.
"You have bare hills and you grow Acacia to
improve the soil. You then inter-plant native
trees so that the Acacia trees are providing
shade to nurse the native seedlings."
Although Acacia were not the only tree type
that helped transform Vietnam's denuded hills,
they were an especially attractive proposition
for farmers with land that is not arable, such as
hilly slopes with shallow, rocky and degraded
soils. These marginal conditions severely limit
smallholders' income from agricultural crops.
After just 5--7 years, it has been estimated
that Acacia plantations can earn Vietnamese
farmers up to $2000 from wood sales from
1 hectare of plantation that costs about $500 to
establish and manage.
The Australians all recall witnessing
examples of the difference Acacia trees made
to the livelihood of poor rural communities.
They saw farmers who, in just a few years, could
afford the purchase of a motorbike, or a small
saw miller who sent his son to university, the
first from the family to do so.
"Those are sights that really enforce the value
of forestry in rural development," Dr Nambiar
says. However, he stresses that it does take
the right management practices to get the
most from tree plantations, shattering the
misconception that trees are just "something you
stick in the ground" and ignore until harvest.
"That's the erroneous view of forestry,"
he says. "The plantation has to be managed
properly. To achieve good growth rates, you
need good-quality seedlings of a suitable
species for the location, weed control, nutrition,
and you may need to prune heavy branches
that otherwise diminish the log's value.
"It is important to understand that a poorly
growing or failed plantation serves neither
the poor nor the rich; the plantation has to be
productive in order to serve society."
The management practices advocated to
Vietnamese smallholders are not, however, high
technology investments---they are simple ways
to maximise income from trees and conserve
site resources such as soil for the long term.
Mr Midgley was the first of the CSIRO team
to visit Vietnam and the enabler for ongoing
involvement in Asia. Looking back after three
decades, the outcome he is most proud of is
the estimated $300--$400 million going into
smallholders' pockets annually because of
innovations to forestry.
The results were published in 2007 in an
ACIAR Impact Assessment Series report (No. 47),
Improved Australian tree species for Vietnam.
Total ACIAR investment in the projects
amounted to nearly $6 million, with a further $3.9
million from CSIRO Forestry and Forest Products
as in-kind contributions and a further $164,000
contributed by Vietnamese collaborators. The
internal rate of return on the projects was
estimated to be about 32%. Assuming a discount
rate of 5%, the net present value of the project
was about A$129 million, implying a benefit:cost
ratio of 79:1.
"The whole thing has to be run by improving
people's livelihoods," Mr Midgley says. "It is
because livelihoods have been improved that
people have been encouraged to plant trees.
One keeps reinforcing the other. It has to be
market-linked---it is the demand for wood that
drives it." n
PROJECT 1: FST/1993/118 -- Seeds of
CONTACT: Tony Bartlett, Forestry Research
Program manager, email@example.com
Dr Sadanandan Nambiar (right) discusses soil
development at an Acacia trial at Dong Ha in
PHOTO: DR CHRIS HARWOOD
SUMMER 2013 PARTNERS
Links Archive Partners September 2012 Partners Winter 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page