forest policies; forestry industry; forest transition; community forest management; tropical landscape ecology; rural livelihoods; forest ecosystem services; vegetation disturbance and succession; invasive species; acacia and rubber plantations; political ecology; non-timber forest products; payments for environmental services
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Southeast Asia remains a major hotspot of tropical deforestation. Yet, within this region, Vietnam has since the 1990’s experienced a remarkable turn-around from net deforestation to net reforestation - a process referred to as a ‘forest transition’. Even though a ‘forest transition’ suggests a change towards sustainable forest use that ensures delivery of ecosystem services as well as resilient rural livelihoods, in reality not much is known about the more ‘qualitative’ aspects of tropical forest cover increases. Pressures from selective logging and invasive vines, for example, restrain the regenerative capacities of native forest vegetation. Furthermore, vast mono-crop plantations of non-native species (especially acacias) continue to expand and dramatically change the features and ‘qualities’ of forested landscapes. As a policy tool to provide incentives for better protection of forest resources and associated ecosystem services, new government-sponsored programs of ‘payments for forest environmental services’ (PFES) have been set up. However, the effects of the PFES scheme are still largely unknown. Through a partnership between University of Lausanne and Hue University we propose an interdisciplinary project (across social/natural science divides) to investigate the qualitative aspects of forest transition in Vietnam, with a special focus on forestlands managed by households or village communities under PFES schemes. Using a broad range of methods (from remote sensing, to participatory livelihoods assessments, to multi-stakeholder workshops) our project will concentrate on four work packages: 1) Detailed forest-ecological studies will provide insights into aspects of forest structure, diversity, and associated ecosystem services as they relate to different types of management (protected area vs community vs forest board management; with/without PFES funding). 2) Research on rural livelihoods and the roles, constraints and visions of different actors with regard to forest changes and the new PFES policy schemes will provide key insights into underlying socio-economic factors. 3) Investment in the capacity of all stakeholders, and in particular the future generation of forest managers, will occur via academic and professional training, information dissemination, and multi-stakeholder interactions. 4) Finally, building on the research findings and extended stakeholder involvement, we will formulate evidence-based policy recommendations on PFES and other relevant policies to improve practices of sustainable rural development and forest management. The project aims to substantially increase the understanding of tropical forest transitions, specifically with regard to forest ecosystem functioning and ‘quality’ aspects, in conjunction with prevailing policy and management regimes (in particular land tenure and PFES schemes). Correspondingly, the project will contribute to strengthen rural social-ecological resilience.