In 1990, an elder of the Dzao ethnic minority group living in Ba Vi Mountain, Ba Vi district, Ha Tay province described their lives in connection to their forestlands as “floating of a river of policy.” By this he meant that they no longer had control over their own forests, the very basis of their culture and livelihood. The following critical analysis of forest management and forestland allocation in Vietnam since the early 1990s describes that “river of policy” and its effects upon the daily lifestyle of indigenous ethnic minority communities in Vietnam.
“The impact of ‘Doi moi’ in transforming Vietnam from a subsidy system to market economy has been to transform the Sustainable Traditional Interdependent Logic of the Ecological Cultural Livelihood of Highland Society to Unsustainability and Dependency. The driving force behind this transformation has been: 1. The Top-down Mechanism of Governance, and 2. the Biased Mindset of national leaders without adequate theoretical and practical understanding of the unique human-nature relations of Viet Nam”.
Part 1: Historical background
Historically, the governance mechanism of Vietnam since 1954 has been top-down, with a leadership habit of blindly follow the examples of other countries without due consideration of the unique characteristics of Vietnam’s own natural, social and cultural capital. One of the first steps of the Vietnamese government following the independence in 1945, was land reform 1954 to cancel the landlord and intellectual classes, and redistribute land to the farmers. Then, in 1959, to force those farmers into cooperatives, by again following the example of the USSR. An example that had already proved disastrous.(Reform Land Law 197/HL/1953)
From 1960 to 1975, with the country united in war against America, farmers and ethnic minorities were looked upon as heroes of the war effort. During this time, forest where ethnic minorities had been living was the secret cradle to which the national leader escaped and prepared for fighting the war (Central Government Resolution 15/ (01/1959). Accordingly, ethnic minority community self-determination under their own wisdom, custom and knowledge to govern their solidarity economy in the forest were providing a trustable and comfortable condition for national leaders and soldiers living and fighting the Americans. After the War, with the country exhausted, the government looked to the forests where ethnic minorities were living as the natural resources for larger production, and resettled ethnic minorities out from their forest home (Resolution 38-CP/1968) as part of the new initiative for reconstructing the country towards socialism after the war. (Directive 61/1976).