This article adapted and shortened from an article authored and first published by WWF International.
In Central Vietnam hundreds of smallholders are joining forces to produce FSC-certified acacia used in outdoor furniture around the world.
Ho Da The and two fellow acacia farmers, Ho Duc Luc and Ho Duc Ngu, make their way through The’s acacia trees on a muggy afternoon.
The is from Hoa Loc village. A smallholder with 4.91 hectares of acacia plantation, he heads up the village smallholder group. Together with Luc and Ngu, he’s lived here all his life, but working formally as a group is relatively new and is the result of involvement in WWF’s regional Sustainable Bamboo Acacia & Rattan Project. The project is a collaboration between WWF and IKEA, and promotes FSC certification as a way to drive sustainable production and draw smallholders into the international market.
“We realized that small forest owners could help shape a sustainable forest sector – but only if they could supply the international market”, said Vu Nguyen, Sustainable Acacia Manager, WWF Vietnam. “That means helping them improve the quality of their product.”
Working together has delivered a lot. Better business planning and longer harvest cycles produce more valuable timber, and commitment from buyers like IKEA mean a better price. Seven to eight-year-old acacia for furniture commands more than twice what a five-year-old harvest used as woodchip for pulp and paper can.
“Before, acacia production was just a way for people to survive – now it’s becoming a professional commodity that’s market-driven”, says WWF’s Vu Nguyen. “And smallholder incomes and social standing are improving.”
The, Luc and Ngu now make over VND 30 million ($1,250) profit per hectare per year from FSC-certified acacia timber – about twice as much as what they would earn from non-certified acacia for woodchip. It’s enabled them to carry out house repairs, renew equipment, and invest in the next business cycle.
Vietnam’s forests are in critical need of help: They have been degraded or destroyed by logging and agricultural land clearance to the point where there is almost no untouched primary forest left. And the wider Greater Mekong region is predicted to be one of the world’s hottest ‘deforestation fronts‘ over the next 15 years if nothing is done.
Reforesting degraded areas with natural species and enriching plantations with natural ‘buffer zones’ is part of the solution and can provide vital corridors for wildlife.
Reducing dependence on foreign imports that drive deforestation is also critical. Ultimately, tackling deforestation relies on making the business case for sustainability – especially for Vietnam’s 1.5 million smallholders who own most of its plantations.