Resource Use Among Rural Agricultural Households Near Protected Areas in Vietnam: The Social Costs of Conservation and Implications for Enforcement

Abstract

This article examines the use of forests in a protected area by nearby agriculturalists in central Vietnam. Research indicates that the majority of rural farmers interviewed who lived near a state designated protected area were receiving both subsistence and cash incomes from forest-based activities, primarily from the collection of forest products. However, much of the collection of forest produce was officially illegal, as it occurred in state protected forests, and interdiction efforts were on the increase. Yet, little attention has been paid in Vietnam to the need for income substitution for households who lose access to forest produce as a result of conservation enforcement, particularly in the case of farmers who live near, but not in, protected areas; their resources use has been ‘invisible’ due to a lack of attention and research on the topic. This misunderstanding of the importance of forests to rural farmers has the potential to result in households facing adverse welfare and livelihood outcomes as protected areas boundaries are tightened, and local communities face increased opportunity costs due to stricter conservation enforcement. The article concludes that substitution for loss of income due to conservation activities would best be achieved through carefully targeted interventions to specific high-impact and high-dependency households. Additionally, investments in new sources of wage labor and other low capital-input activities, rather than in agriculture, would likely be of most benefit.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Households, rather than per capita, figures are used throughout this article. Statistical analysis in regressions on various socio-economic variables showed no significant relationship between number of household members and quantity of forest products collected or income from forests, indicating that households are an appropriate unit of measurement for this study. All major income surveys in Vietnam (such as the Vietnam Living Standards Survey, the Agricultural Census, the Multi-purpose Household Survey, and the Population Census) used by both the General Statistical Office and by donors such as the World Bank use households as the unit of analysis, which is followed here, as economic decision-making is usually collective within the household.

  2. 2.

    In 2001, the exchange rate was 14,500 VND to 1 USD.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for research in Ha Tinh in 2000–2001 was generously provided by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research small grant and a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant. The author would like to thank her research sponsor in Vietnam, the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies of Vietnam National University, and in particular Dr. Vo Quy, Dr. Truong Quang Hoc, and Vo Thanh Giang, for their support of this research project. Dr. Le Tran Chan’s assistance in identifying specimens is gratefully acknowledged. The author would also like to thank Michael Dove, Eric Worby and Jim Scott for their comments on this research in different form.

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McElwee, P.D. Resource Use Among Rural Agricultural Households Near Protected Areas in Vietnam: The Social Costs of Conservation and Implications for Enforcement. Environmental Management 45, 113–131 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-009-9394-5

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Keywords

  • Non-timber forest products
  • Rural livelihoods
  • Protected areas
  • Poverty
  • Vietnam
  • Conservation
  • ICDPs