Authored and first published by WWF International.
In Central Vietnam hundreds of smallholders are joining forces to produce FSC-certified acacia used in outdoor furniture around the world, expanding the approach and making the business case for sustainability may be the best chance for saving forests in the Greater Mekong.
The price of growth
Vietnam’s forests have now been degraded or destroyed by logging and agricultural land clearance to the point where there is almost no untouched primary forest left.
And the wider Greater Mekong region is predicted to be one of the world’s hottest ‘deforestation fronts’ over the next 15 years if nothing is done.
Reforesting degraded areas with natural species and enriching plantations with natural ‘buffer zones’ is part of the solution and can provide vital corridors for wildlife.
Reducing dependence on foreign imports that drive deforestation is also critical. Ultimately, tackling deforestation relies on making the business case for sustainability – especially for Vietnam’s 1.5 million smallholders who own most of its plantations.
“We realised that small forest owners could help shape a sustainable forest sector – but only if they could supply the international market”, says Vu Nguyen, Sustainable Acacia Manager, WWF Vietnam. “That means helping them improve the quality of their product.”
On the plantation
Ho Da The and two fellow acacia farmers, Ho Duc Luc and Ho Duc Ngu, make their way through The’s acacia trees on a muggy afternoon.
The is from Hoa Loc village. A smallholder with 4.91 hectares of acacia plantation, he heads up the village smallholder group.
Together with Luc and Ngu, he’s lived here all his life but working formally as a group is relatively new – the result of involvement in WWF’s regional Sustainable Bamboo Acacia & Rattan Project (SBARP).
As requested by its customer, Scansia Pacific, the Minh An processing company in the town of Phu Bai only uses FSC-certified acacia.
A Vietnamese supplier to IKEA, Scansia produces the home furnishing giant’s Äpplarö range of outdoor furniture.
It’s a market link that’s been instrumental in enabling Phu Loc’s smallholders become certified.
“We really had difficulties sourcing certified material at the outset”, says Ha. “So now we support forest owners in Thua Thien Hue and Quang Tri provinces with [certification] assessment costs. The relationship is closer now. We feel happy creating value for local people. It’s is a win-win deal.”
Working with Minh An, Scansia and IKEA, and adopting a pioneering group approach to certification through which they share costs and responsibilities has radically changed how The’s Hoa Loc village smallholder group do business.
Supported by WWF, it belongs to a larger association of 241 smallholders in Thua Thien Hue Province – the Forest Owners Sustainable Development Association (FOSDA).
On to a good thing
Working together has delivered a lot. Better business planning and longer harvest cycles produce more valuable timber, and commitment from buyers like IKEA mean a better price. Seven to eight-year-old acacia for furniture commands more than twice what a five-year-old harvest used as woodchip for pulp and paper can.
“Before, acacia production was just a way for people to survive – now it’s becoming a professional commodity that’s market-driven”, says WWF’s Vu Nguyen. “And smallholder incomes and social standing are improving.”
The, Luc and Ngu now make over VND 30 million ($1,250) profit per hectare per year from FSC-certified acacia timber – about twice as much as what they would earn from non-certified acacia for woodchip. It’s enabled them to carry out house repairs, renew equipment, and invest in the next business cycle.
According to WWF’s Impact in the Forest report, deforestation-free enterprise remains in its infancy.
“The challenge is scaling up”, says Vu Nguyen. “Larger areas need to be certified to meet market demand. And investment at landscape and jurisdictional levels is needed to end deforestation. Companies like IKEA can help drive regional change but farmers and communities remain central to success.”