Tuesday 22 june 2021
Monoculture acacia plantations intended for wood pulp are disastrous for biodiversity in Vietnam. Our local partner organisation VietNature saw that things could be done differently: with gains for plantation owners from the community as well as for nature. With the support of IUCN NL, it set up a profitable project for FSC certified timber production. In 2020, the first investor came forward.
Header photo © VietNature
In Vietnam, you will find many millions of hectares of monoculture acacia plantations, destined for pulp. ‘It’s problematic,’ says Jan Willem den Besten, senior expert green economy at IUCN NL. ‘FSC certification is not required because the plantations are intended to produce pulp. This means they only contain acacia trees. These are alien species that are not compatible with local nature. There is simply no incentive for plantation owners to plant a minimum of 10% indigenous trees as required for FSC certification.’
What’s more, the trees are cut down after just a few years, long before they are fully mature. ‘As a result, these plantations are a kind of green desert: hardly any insects, birds or mammals live there.’
The focus on pulp has another disadvantage: no timber is produced for the Vietnamese furniture industry. ‘Therefore, this huge industry remains dependent on imports from neighbouring countries,’ explains Jan Willem. ‘Unfortunately, this often involves illegally felled wood from natural forests.’ Our local partner organisation VietNature believed things had to change: with gains for the plantation owners from the community and for nature.
Forest restoration with economic potential
‘We supported them in applying IUCN’s Restoration Opportunities Assessment Methodology,’ says Jan
Willem. ‘This provided VietNature with an insight into the best opportunities for forest restoration, including economic potential for sustainable forest management and protection for what remains of the natural forest.’ Since then, they have developed a unique model to support local landowners to profitably make the switch from monoculture acacia plantations for pulp to FSC certified wood production. In addition to working with local landowners, who often own several hectares of land, VietNature is committed to FSC certification and seeks out buyers who will pay a higher price for FSC certified wood.
‘Through our initiative Momo4Climate and the Green Livelihoods Alliance, we supported VietNature in 2017 and 2018 in developing a profitable business case,’ Jan Willem reveals. ‘In 2018, VietNature presented their project during a Dragon’s Den at the Global Impact Investors Forum. They won the competition, and with it the first start-up capital to turn their idea into reality.’ In the meantime, VietNature has received even more support to carry out the first FSC certification and since 2020, there has been an investor interested in further scaling up the idea.
Nature benefits most
The fact that the project has now become a reality means profits for plantation owners: FSC certified
wood yields more than pulp. But the initiative benefits nature most of all. Jan Willem: ‘The timber plantations according to this new model contain more indigenous tree species, which are given the opportunity to grow into mature trees. That is a gain for biodiversity. This means the plantations provide a pleasant habitat for many
insects, birds and mammals.’
Moreover, the plantations indirectly contribute to the conservation of natural forests. ‘Thanks to their higher income, local plantation owners are under less pressure to cut down illegal wood. And if the country produces more wood for its furniture industry, it will need to import less from neighbouring countries, where the hardwood trade is often conducted at the expense of natural forests.’