The politics of a “forest transition” in Vietnam:  PhD of Nguyen Thi Hai Van

Van during her fieldwork

I am thrilled to announce that Nguyen Thi Hai Van has successfully defended her PhD.  Using a political ecology approach, Van investigated the dramatic changes in the forest landscapes of A Luoi, a mountainous district in the central coast of Vietnam.  In this humid tropical landscape, natural forests were destroyed by war and logging, but forest cover has rebounded in the last 20 years due to widespread acacia plantations as well as conservation activities in remaining forests.  Much of these changes have been attributed to successive state policies and programs, such as the allocation of forest lands to local people, the massive promotion of reforestation, and the implementation of ecosystem service payment schemes.  Van, however, looks “under the hood” of the successive layers state policies to see how they translate into specific outcomes in specific places in conjunction with local aspirations and economic pressures.   In the end, she argues that not only has the forest been transformed, but also the people – with ‘new forest people’ undertaking new livelihoods with new identities.

Congratulating the successful Dr Nguyen!

Van’s thesis was evaluated on November 2 in a “private colloquium” by a rather international jury, consisting of:

  • Christian Lund, University of Copenhagen (external expert)
  • Sarah Milne, Australian National University (external expert)
  • Gretchen Walters, University of Lausanne (internal expert)
  • Pam McElwee, Rutgers University (co-director)

and myself, in a session chaired by our Vice Dean of Research Marie-Elodie Perga.  And on Friday Dec. 3 Van passed the “public defence” with some twenty people in the room and twenty-five more cheering online.  

The thesis was financed by the R4D project “Assessing the nature of a forest transition in Vietnam: Ecosystem services and social-ecological resilience in locally managed forest landscapes”, funded by Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. 

Field visit with Dr. Roland Cochard, FT Viet project senior researcher and member of supervisory committee

Van undertook detailed fieldwork (luckily just before the pandemic) and demonstrated an empathetic understanding of the local context and incredible ability to ferret out information from diverse actors at all levels.  She ties her empirical story to a broad range of literature, engaging in detail with difficult debates and concepts, and is wonderfully able to translate her work into policy briefs, relevant recommendations, and even videos.

The thesis is available online via the Unil online repository, and several chapters in journal articles. 

Congratulations Van!

Thesis / Paper links

Thesis: The politics of forest transition in the contemporary Vietnam Uplands: Case study in A Luoi, Thua Thien Hue province, Central Vietnam (link to download via Unil’s SERVAL server)

Paper 1: Nguyen, THV & CA Kull (2022) Land acquisition through bricolage? Politics of smallholder acacia plantation expansion in upland Central Vietnam Journal of Peasant Studies (authors PDF here)

Paper 2: Nguyen, VHT, P McElwee, HTV Le, TP Nghiem & HDT Vu (accepted pending minor revision) The challenges of collective PES: Insights from three community-based models in Vietnam. Ecosystem Services

Paper 3: coming soon….

Annexe 1: McElwee, P, B Huber & THV Nguyễn (2020) Hybrid Outcomes of Payments for Ecosystem Services Policies in Vietnam: Between Theory and Practice. Development and Change 51 (1):253-280.

Annexe 2: Cochard, R, VHT Nguyen, DT Ngo & CA Kull (2020) Vietnam’s forest cover changes 2005-2016: veering from transition to (yet more) transaction? World Development 135:105051.

One Response to The politics of a “forest transition” in Vietnam:  PhD of Nguyen Thi Hai Van

  1. dzungtringo says:

    Congratulations Christian and Van! I’m very excited on Van’s success as part of our team’s effort in connecting excellent people. I still remembered the date you asked me about the final choice of PhD candidate for our R4D project. I hope to see more publications from Van’s thesis and our team in the coming year!

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