Coffee farmers in Viet Nam's Central Highlands province of Lam Dong join in efforts to conserve forestland and biodiversity.
Viet Nam has established many national parks and nature reserves in recent decades. This is a vital step toward protecting the country's valuable biological diversity. However, many of the areas protected so far are small and disconnected, hindering efforts to conserve ideal habitats for plant and animal species, maintain valuable ecosystem services, and promote local community welfare through conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
One solution to fragmented ecosystems is to create biodiversity corridors, which provide linkages between protected areas. The Pilot Biodiversity Corridor (BC) program, 2005-2006, helped develop such a corridor in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, specifically between the 70,000-hectare Bidoup Nui Ba National Park and the nearby Da Nhim Watershed Protection Forest.
The national park, established in November 2004, faced an immediate challenge of aligning the interests of poor residents with protecting the forestland and biodiversity. The BC program, implemented with support from the ADB's Poverty and Environment Fund (PEF), subsequently enlisted villagers in three communes in and around the park to participate in defining a corridor and to then take responsibility for protecting it.
Involving local farmers in the baseline survey and biodiversity assessment allowed local communities and the program team to better understand each other and forge personal relationships. This community-based approach empowered farmers to propose investments under the project. Farmers were then given training and assistance to enhance their livelihoods.
"We undertook several major activities under the pilot," recalls Le Van Huong, the park director. "We worked with commune and village authorities to select households for participation in the project and helped them to raise cows, pigs, and chickens and to grow coffee. We also undertook forest enrichment with chestnut and planted pine forest."
Coffee farmer Bon Dung Ha Nam was one of those who benefited from the BC program. Ha Nam, who is now vice-chair of Da Nhim Commune (as of 2013), was one of 450 farmers who received training under the project in coffee cultivation. His family also received one cow, which has since borne three calves.
Creating sustainable livelihoods
Some 7 years after the BC program, there have been positive changes in and around the park. A paved road (built independently of the BC program) now connects the communes to the provincial capital of Da Lat, providing farmers with much better access to markets. Throughout the area, coffee plantations are now plentiful, offering farmers much better profits than corn growing.
In addition, the focus of the BC program project on promoting income-generating activities has since been replicated in other biodiversity corridor programs supported by ADB across the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), including the Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Project. Launched in 2011, this $70 million initiative builds off the community-based model employed by the BC program.
By raising residents' awareness of biodiversity conservation and strengthening the capacity of provincial and local institutions to implement donor-supported projects, the BC program in Lam Dong also paved the way for the province to launch another pilot, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Payment for environmental services
This pilot focused on payment for forest ecosystem services (PFES), whereby hydropower companies compensate farmers in return for patrolling assigned forest areas to prevent logging, hunting, and other illegal activities. The hydropower companies benefit from the avoided siltation that comes with intact forests, which increases profits to a hydropower facility through reduced plant and operating costs.
Many farmers are now also forest patrollers, deriving as much as half of their income from PFES from nearby hydropower plants. Due in large part to the PFES scheme, coupled with strong forest regulations, hillsides around the park are still covered with forest land. Through PEF, ADB is now working to scale up PFES to other areas across the country.
Bon Dung Ha Nam is among the many paid to patrol the forest 1 to 4 times per month in the wet season to prevent illegal logging and poaching, and more frequently in the dry season against the risk of forest fires. He receives $100 per quarter.
"The forest is much better now," says Ha Nam. "In the past, we just cut down the forest - very arbitrarily. Now management and protection are very strict, so no one can destroy the forest. That's why the forest looks so green and beautiful now.
"We are all from the same village, working together to protect the forests," he concludes. "We are like the owners."