Economic pressures resurgent in Vietnam’s forests

Over the past decade, Vietnam has shifted its approach to forestlands as spaces for economic production and ecosystem services. Policy shifts — such as re-zoning forests from “protection” to “production” — have accompanied decreases in natural forest and increases in exotic tree plantations. Other new policies, like a payment for ecosystem services (PFES) program, had little impact on natural forest cover during the period of our study. More stable natural forests were associated with better governance (less corruption). In sum, despite large efforts invested in stopping deforestation and restoring forestlands, gains in forest cover are not irreversible.


Expanding acacia plantations and (in the far back) natural forest in Huong Nguyen commune, Thừa Thiên-Huế province

These are just some of the findings of an article from our r4d “FT Viet” research project just published in the journal World Development.

Led by senior scientist Dr. Roland Cochard and in collaboration with Ngo Tri Dung and Nguyen Hai Van, the article is based on a multivariate statistical analysis of a collection of official government data at the provincial level (the statistics are generally believed to be of sufficiently good quality). That means the conclusions are based on what is actually happening at the provincial level.

Why the changes we see? Two reasons seem to be obvious. One, the government increasingly pushes large institutional forest managers (forest protection boards, state forest companies) to seek to be self-financing. Two, a wildly successful acacia-based wood production economy enrolling both the large forest managers as well as smallholder farmers around the country.

The paper itself is much more nuanced and rich with details, we invite you to have a read. And look out for future publications where we zoom in from this national analysis to the more contextualized, on-the-ground processes at play in Thừa Thiên-Huế province.


reference: Cochard, R., Nguyen, V. H. T., Ngo, D. T., & Kull, C. A. (2020). Vietnam’s forest cover changes 2005-2016: veering from transition to (yet more) transaction? World Development. 135:105051.

A number of free PDF copies are available via this link; after that quota is used up please feel free to email me or the other authors for the PDF (the paper is regrettably not open access, being submitted a few months too early for the Switzerland-Elsevier open access agreement).  

The data for this paper are archived online at

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