Vietnam forest land fund running out as demand soars

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Increasing numbers of people want to plant trees that they can harvest after a few years and make a fortune, but there is little forestry land left to parcel out.

Ha Cong Tuan, deputy head of the General Department of Forestry under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said more residents in forest areas are demanding land to start plantations, but the state's forestry land fund was running thin.

The fund was established in accordance with the 2004 Law of Forest Protection and Development.

In fact, said Tuan, at the moment the only available land that could be allotted were those currently under the management of local authorities and state-owned farms that were running inefficiently.

"These two sources, however, can only provide two to 2.5 million hectares of land in total," Tuan told Thanh Nien.

This means each of some 20 million people who live near forested areas would receive less than one hectare each, he said.

A one hectare plantation would not mean much of an income for a family, Tuan said, adding that between 20-30 hectares of plantation were needed to "make a fortune from forests."

Tuan said giving people the technological knowhow and good seedlings would help them exploit the land to its full capacity.

Moreover, the government had recently approved the agriculture ministry's proposal that banks grant people loans to grow plantations and collect repayment and interest only after harvest, he said.

A large area of forests have already been lost in many parts of the country to large development projects including hydropower dams, and more forests are set to be destroyed by similar projects that are being and will be implemented. This has not only reduced forestry coverage in the country, but also reduced land available to plant plantations.

The water needed to irrigate plantations and the impacts of plantations on groundwater sources have not been sufficiently studied.

Great demand

The government has been allotting forest land to people living near forests since 1994, but it was not until recently that residents realized the economic benefits of planting trees.

This happened after many people became wealthy after harvesting tens of hectares of forests that they received years ago, Tuan said.

Depending on the trees planted, profits can be reaped after 5 years (yews) or 5-8 years for keo lai or Acacia hybrid.

Pham Van Hung from the province's Cu Kroa Commune said that after a local man sold timber to a paper manufacturer at VND65 million a hectare three years ago, many local families followed him and now each of them owned between 15-60 hectares.

"Within the next few years when raw material wood is priced VND40-45 million per hectare, the families will become billionaires," he said.

Businesses are also keen to tap into these gains, and many have turned to growing plantations overseas because Vietnam does not have enough land to offer.

The Vietnam Rubber Group, for instance, is cultivating plantations in Cambodia and Laos and planning to do the same in Myanmar, South Africa and Mozambique in the future to meet its target of 800,000 hectares of rubber by 2015, according to its General Director Le Quang Thung.

The Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group has invested VND1.5 trillion into 15,000 hectares of rubber in Laos and $73 million in Cambodia.

"Not much forestry land, especially for growing rubber trees, is available here," said HAGL board chairman Doan Nguyen Duc, adding that at the moment his company owned 25,000 hectares of rubber in Laos and 20,000 hectares in Cambodia, but only 6,000 hectares in Vietnam.

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