Academic journal article Journal of Business Administration

Vietnam's Forests: Historical Perspective on a Major Issue for Sustainable Development

Academic journal article Journal of Business Administration

Vietnam's Forests: Historical Perspective on a Major Issue for Sustainable Development

Article excerpt


It is no secret that Viet Nam is currently undergoing a period of intense socio-economic transformation that has already propelled it into the ranks of the fastest growing economies of Asia. With foreign business interests beating their way to its door in search of new investment opportunities, Viet Nam is resolutely set on the path of urban-based industrial and technological development. However, at the same time, the country faces a major environmental crisis that can be traced in large part to the way in which Vietnamese forests have been treated over the past several decades. This crisis could well undermine socio-economic development in Vietnam.

The goal of this article(1) is to sketch a historical portrait of the evolution of Vietnamese forests. Only a better understanding of the factors behind deforestation and of efforts at reforestation can allow the serious student to appreciate their combined impact and to gain a clearer picture of the state of Vietnamese forests today.

Southeast Asian monsoon forest and rainforest cover has been declining at an accelerated pace since the 1950s. Virtually every country in the region has been affected. However, in recent years it would appear that the rate of decline in relation to total deforested territory has been most rapid in Viet Nam, where forest cover decreased from 47% to approximately 28% between 1965 and 1986-90.(2) In fact, the consequences of war and the impact of internal factors such as agricultural colonization, increased demand for fuelwood, and commercial logging - both legal and illegal - have combined to make the Vietnamese case one of the most dramatic contemporary examples of deforestation in Southeast Asia.

Although efforts at reforestation have reconstituted forests so that they now cover 28% of Vietnamese territory (Kempf, 1990), the situation is still far from encouraging.(3) Various sources agree that primary and secondary forests were being destroyed at the rate of 160,000 to 200,000 hectares a year at the beginning of the 1990s (UNDP, 1993), with one estimate going as high as 320,000 hectares per annum (Nguyen Van Truong, 1992). Fuelwood collection and commercial logging accounted for half of these losses, while forest fires and unplanned agricultural clearing were cited as causing the other 50% (SRV, 1991a). Exploitation of the forests has led to serious erosion problems, which now affect some 40% of Vietnamese territory and also threaten more than 500 plant and 100 animal species with extinction through loss of habitat (Vo Quy et Le Thac Can, 1994). In fact, certain authors claim that Vietnamese forests will have completely disappeared by the year 2000 (Beresford and Fraser, 1992; Kempf, 1990). Given the fact that deforestation has a direct impact on the country's ability to increase agricultural production, secure the food supply and provide a solid base for further industrial development, one cannot underestimate the socio-economic cost of such a loss.

To better understand current challenges in Vietnamese forest management, it is essential to look back over at least the past fifty years of Vietnamese history. War and severe political upheaval have had a significant impact on Vietnamese forests since mid-century. Clear links between historical events and changes to the forest cover must be made in order to avoid excessively technical explanations of current problems or facile perspectives inspired by intellectual fashions.


The Consequences of War

Deforestation in Viet Nam during the two Indochina wars, particularly the war with the Americans, was of proportions unequalled in human history. Although nearly two decades have passed since the end of the Second Viet Nam War, the after-effects of the conflict continue to undermine Viet Nam's forest potential.(4) It is in the southern half of the country that the impact of the war is most evident, for despite the heavy bombing inflicted on the North, the South suffered the most severely in ecological terms. …

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