A very good morning. It is a privilege to be here today as we conclude a very rich and informative three-day learning and discussion about how the Government of Viet Nam, private sector and Ethnic Minorities can work together to realize the economic and market potential for forest products and services in the country, and especially Sam Ngoc Linh in Quang Nam Province.
We applaud the Government of Viet Nam’s inspiring commitment to protect and develop its forests.
We have heard Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s repeated emphases on “better forests”, not only “more forests”.
We have seen progressive laws such as the Law on Forestry, Law on Planning, Penal Code introduced in 2017.
We have seen ambitious goals set to stop loss of natural forests and at the same time, increase forest cover from 41% to 42% by 2020, and to 45% by 2035 in the second National REDD+ Action Programme for 2017 to 2030.
And yet, this has not yet attracted as much private sector investments as hoped for. Or greater buy-in from Ethnic Minority communities themselves. Both are important partners the Government of Viet Nam should have by its side to achieve its ambitious goals.
Frame the problem: Curent Ethnic Minorities policies are a “one-size-fits-all"
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
In 2016, UNDP conducted a study on Ethnic Minorities and Sustainable Development Goals: Who will be left behind. One of the key findings from this study is that most Ethnic Minority or ethnic-related policies are a “one-size-fits-all”.
Most of these policies and programs do not reflect the diversity represented by the 53 ethnic minority groups recognized in the country, who make up 14% of the population.
They seldom consider how different regions, localities, ethnic groups and gender are from one another.
Policies at regional, commune and household levels overlap, not just in one sector, but across all sectors.
One of the fall-out from this “one-size-fits-all” approach is forest land - the very asset that is needed to improve the well-being of Ethnic Minorities and incentivize private sector investments.
Traditional land used to be managed communally, but private land allocation distanced the relationship between individual land user and the community.
Combined with the fact that the quantity and quality of land allocated to individuals are inconsistent, returns from any land investments vary.
Therefore, the ability to use land as a collateral to access loans for investment is also limited. In a study conducted in 2012 assessing the impact of Program 135 Phase II, UNDP found that nearly 60% of total household income comes from agricultural activities such as farm, crop and livestock, minimal from forest land and community forests.
Frame the problem: Investing in sustainably managed natural forests not as attractive as other land use
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Everyone knows, from national leaders to local citizens, that forests are gold and must be sustainably managed for the priceless benefits they provide to the whole society, and ethnic minorities have a comparative advantage in sustainably managing and investing in natural forests.
However, for a household or an investor, in direct economic and financial terms, living on natural forests is more challenging and less rewarding than living on agriculture or commercial land.
The lack of investment in sustainable forest management and business models is not only an Ethnic Minority issue. It is a national challenge, which requires improving enabling conditions.
Innovative Solutions – Creating enabling conditions
We urge the Government to send a strong signal to introduce clear policies, laws and regulations, and beyond legal and regulatory reforms, the economic, financial and fiscal conditions to unlock productive investments and activities in forests, and particularly in natural forests, must be improved.
For instance, sectoral policies for sustainable forest goods and services such as Non-Timber Forest Products, medicinal plants, and eco-tourism need to be reviewed to create access for Ethnic Minorities.
These policies need to create enabling conditions for responsible investment in certification schemes with standards for quality assurance and Private-Public Partnership modalities among forest owners, investors and local communities.
We should also look at innovative application of new technologies, particularly in the context of IR 40 to accelerate PPP. For example, a system using blockchain technology provides trusted and verifiable transparent information in the food and non-timber commodities chain from EM primary producers/farmers to wholesalers, retailers and homes. It will immensely contribute to enhancing the value chains and investors and consumers’ trust.
To complement these policies, there should also be critical implementation and coordination of existing fiscal and financial reforms associated with green growth, climate change and forest plans should be accelerated.
Experience from the Payment for Forest Environment Services (PFES) system and other innovative programs supported by the Government and its partners demonstrate that fixing the financial and fiscal imbalance towards forests is a critical lever to improve both livelihoods of forest-dependent people and primarily of Ethnic Minorities, and sustainable forest development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In conclusion, I applaud all the organizers, especially the Quang Nam Provincial Government and the Committee for Ethnic Minorities Affairs, for organizing such a successful and insightful event.
As we move forward, we look forward to working with the Government of Viet Nam, the private sector and Ethnic minorities to develop “better forests” that can unlock the economic and market potential for forest products in a way that respects the unique features of Ethnic Minorities’ traditional knowledge and cultures.