A ‘forest transition’ describes an turnaround from historical forest loss to long-term forest gain, as experienced by Switzerland since 1850. Such a transition may result from the abandonment of less productive farmlands as a country’s economy modernizes and urbanizes, including agricultural intensification. Forest regrowth may also follow from policies and initiatives such as improved forest protection and new plantations; such actions typically are inspired by forest product scarcity or economically damaging environmental degradation. Forest transitions have recently been described for several tropical developing countries, prominently including Vietnam, but the exact nature of the forest transition and its feedback into these tropical countries’ development remains largely uninvestigated.

Lay summary

Content and aim of the research project

Our aim is to contribute to a better understanding of tropical forest transitions (specifically in Vietnam) as they relate to sustainable development. Focusing on a study site in Central Vietnam, we will (i) describe recent dynamics and causes of forest cover changes, including anthropogenic influences and ecological succession in different forest types, and (ii) investigate consequences of these changes on forest provisioning services (availability of timber and non-timber products) and other types of ecosystem services (e.g. watershed protection). We will (iii) assess the livelihood outcomes and valuations of different types of forests for local stakeholders within current institutional, economic, and policy contexts; in particular we will (iv) investigate the effectiveness of new ‘payments for forest environmental services’ policies.

Scientific and societal context of the research project

Our project will generate essential information on the impacts of diverse processes (policies, socio-economic change, ecological dynamics) in bringing about a stabilization of the forest cover and in introducing a practical, sustainable forest management regime, maintaining, restoring and optimizing key forest ecosystem functions and services from both planted and natural forests. Research will be connected to programs of academic and practical extension, including capacity building for forest professionals, knowledge exchange between stakeholders, and evidence-based policy improvements and innovations.