Forests and Forestry

The Government of Vietnam considers forests an important ecological resource, valuable for the socio-economic development and well-being of communities throughout the country. Forests play a major role in adapting to climate change as well as in regular environmental functions such as preventing erosion and maintaining water circulation.1 Both forest and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) are important sources of nutrition.2 Forests also have a social function, contributing to job creation and incomes.3,4 At present, there are about 25 million Vietnamese people for whom 20%, or by some estimates up to 40%, of their annual income comes from the forest.5 Forest functions come together in remote, upland areas, where nearly 10% of the population living within or near natural forests (approximately 12 million hectares) are poor or ethnic minority people.6

Forests are tracked using a number of different measures, including forest cover, forest area, and tree cover. Not all tracking organizations use all the measures, and may each define the measure slightly differently. The World Bank, which gathers data from the FAO, uses “forest area” and defines it as “Forest area is land under natural or planted stands of trees of at least 5 meters in situ, whether productive or not, and excludes tree stands in agricultural production systems (for example, in fruit plantations and agroforestry systems) and trees in urban parks and gardens.”7 Global Forest Watch uses “tree cover” and defines it as “biophysical presence of trees and may take the form of natural forests or plantations existing over a range of canopy densities”8 The Government of Vietnam uses forest coverage instead, and defines it as: Forest coverage is the percentage of existing forest area compared to the natural area of the whole country, a territory or a locality at a given time.9 The differences in definitions are important not only for understanding the data, but also because the ecosystem services differ between natural forest and plantations, therefore also impacting how forests can contribute to reducing the impacts of climate change

According to the FAO, Vietnam used to have the lowest rates of forest area and wood stocks per capita globally.10 During the period of 1943-1995, Vietnam reported a forest cover decrease from 43% to only 27.2%.11 Between 2001 and 2017, Global Forest Watch (GFW) noted that ten regions were responsible for 29% of all tree cover losses, including natural forest and plantations, in the country, in which Bình Dương province had the most relative tree cover loss at 59% compared to the national average of 13%.12 GFW also noted that from 2001 to 2012, Vietnam also gained 564,000 ha of tree cover, equal to 0.70% of global total.13 Using the World Bank definition, forest area in 2016 now accounts for 47.6% of total land area in Vietnam,14 including 10 million ha of natural forest from 2006 on, accounting for 70% of total forest area (Table 1). 

Chart 1. Forest development index 2015 – 2017 (unit %)

Source: Documentation and Statistical Services Center, GSO 


Over the past decade, Vietnam has reported considerable efforts in forest management and protection. Using the Vietnamese official definition, the total forest area is now 14,377.7 thousand ha, with natural forest at 10,242.1 thousand ha and plantations at 4,135 thousand ha15 Deforestation area was reduced by 70% during the period 2011-2015, as compared to 2005-2010.16 As a result, forest coverage reached 41.2% by the end of 201617 and is close to that of 1943. Vietnam is now the only country in the Mekong region to have reported a continuous increase in its forest cover over the last three decades18 By 2030, the Vietnamese government aims to stabilize the natural forest area to at least equal to the area achieved in 2020 and increase the national forest coverage to 45%.19

Table 1. Forest status (Unit: Thous. Ha)

Total area of forested landNatural forest
Planted forest
12,418.50 9,529.40 2,889.10
2007 12,739.30
10,188.20 2,551.10
2008 13,118.70 10,348.60
13,258.80 10,339.30 2,919.50
13,388.10 10,304.80 3,083.30
13,515.10 10,285.40 3,229.70
10,398.10 3,556.30
10,100.20 3,693.30
10,175.50 3,886.30
10,242.10 4,135.60

Sources: General Statistics Office, Statistical Yearbooks 2005 – 201720

These reported improvements come at the same time that forestry production values have more than doubled, from 3.4% in 2011 to 7.5% in 2015.21 Yet, regional shifts tell a different story. In the Central Highlands, an area that has a high concentration of ethnic minorities who rely on the forest for livelihood, the forest area was reduced by 312,416 ha, forest cover decreased by 5.8% and forest volume decreased by 25.5 million m3, equivalent to nearly 8% of the total forest reserve of the country.22

Reasons for loss of forest include:

  • over-exploitation (50%);
  • conversion of forest and forestry land into agricultural production (20%);
  • nomadism and poverty (20%); and
  • forest fires, natural disasters and risks (10%)

Much of this activity is connected to livelihoods, so involving people whose livelihoods are dependent on forests, such as ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, may help to reduce the pressure on the forest.23

Chart 2. Forest area in Vietnam in 2016 (unit: thousand hectares)

Source: Documentation and Statistical Services Center, GSO 

Forest classification in Vietnam

Forest identification and classification is regulated by the Government and is carried out for forest resources management activities such as taking inventory, monitoring, and forest planning. According to the Circular No. 34/2009 / TT-BNNPTNT of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development24 on the criteria for determining and classifying forests, there are six categories as follows:

Forest classification / TerminologyDefinition
1. According to the purpose
Protection ForestForests are mainly used to protect water resources, protect soil, prevent erosion, combat desertification, limit disasters, regulate climate and protect the environment.
Special Use Forest (SUF)Forests mainly used for nature preservation, national ecological standard samples, forest biological gene sources; scientific research; To protect historical and cultural relics and places of scenic beauty; Resting and tourism, combined with environmental protection.
Production forestForests are mainly used for production and trading of timber, non-timber forest products and protection of the environment.
2. According to the origin
Natural forestForests are available in the wild or regenerated by natural regeneration.
a / Primary forests: forests are not affected by human or natural disasters; The structure of the forest is relatively stable.
b) Secondary forest: The forest has been affected by human or natural disasters to the extent that forest structure is changed.
- Restore forests: forests formed by natural regeneration on land that has lost forest due to slash-and-burn, forest fire or exhaustion;
- Post-harvest forest: forest that has been exploited for timber or other forest products.
Planted forestForests formed by human cultivation, including:
a / Planted forests on land without forests;
b / Planted forests after the exploitation of planted forests;
c) Natural regenerated forest from exploited plantations.
By planting time, planted forests are classified by age, depending on the type of plant, the time period prescribed for each different age.
3. According to site conditions
Forest in mountain landForests grow on the hills and mountains.
Forest in rocky mountainForests develop on rocky mountains, or on exposed rocky areas with no or very little soil on the surface.
Flooded forestForests grow on areas regularly flooded or periodically submerged.
a) Mangrove forest: It is a coastal developed forest and large estuaries with frequent or periodic flooded tides.
b) Forest on alkaline soils: It is a forest growing on alkaline soil, typical of Melaleuca forests in the South.
c / Fresh-water submerged forests are forests where fresh and submerged freshwater is regularly or regularly flooded.
Forest on sandy soilForest on the sand dunes.
4. According to species
Wood forestForest consists mainly of following tree species.
a) Broad-leaved forest: Leafy forest accounts for over 75% of the total number of trees.
- Evergreen broad-leaved forest: is a year-round green forest;
- Leafless deciduous forest: is a forest with total seasonal deciduous trees accounting for 75% of the total number of trees or more;
- Semi-deciduous broadleaf forests: Forests with evergreen and deciduous species with a mixed rate of 25% to 75% of each tree species.
b) Coniferous forest: Coniferous forest accounts for more than 75% of the total number of trees.
c) Mixed broadleaf and coniferous forests: forests with a mixed rate of 25% to 75% of each tree species.
Bamboo forestMainly composed of tree species such as: bamboo, maize, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots, vases, plots, leeches, mounds, mounds, bushes, etc.
Coconut forestMainly composed of coconut
Wood mixed wood and bambooa / Wood-bamboo mixed forests: forests with timber accounts for> 50% of forest cover;
b) Bamboo-wood mixed forest: Bamboo forest accounts for more than 50% of forest cover.
5. According to reserves
For woodlanda) Very rich forest: with standing trees over 300 m3 / ha;
b) Rich forest: standing trees of 201-300 m3 / ha;
c) Medium forest: standing trees  of 101 - 200 m3 / ha;
d) Poor forest: standing trees  of 10 to 100 m 3 / ha;
e / Forests without reserves: Average timber forests <8 cm with standing trees of less than 10 m3 / ha.
For bamboo forest:Forests are classified by tree species, diameter class and density
6. Land without forest
Land with plantation forestThe land is planted, but the average height of the crop is less than 1.5 m for slow growing species and 3.0 m for fast-growing species and the density is less than 1,000 trees / ha.
Vacant land that has regenerated woodUn-forested land planned for forestry purposes, cover vegetation including shrubs, grasslands, reeds and regenerated trees with the height of 0.5 m or more reaching at least 500 trees / ha.
Vacant land without regenerated timberLand not yet forested for forestry purposes, including vacant land, shrub land, grassland, mangroves, banana trees, and so on.
Rocky mountains without treesIt is a barren mountain or a rocky mountain with trees but not yet become standard forest.

Source: Circular No. 34/2009 / TT-BNNPTNT

Chart 3.  New plantation area in Vietnam 2005-2017 (unit: thousand hectares) 

Source: Documentation and Statistical Services Center, GSO 

History of forest policy and governance

There are two key laws for the forestry sector:


When the Vietnamese government decided to shift away from a centrally-planned economy to a market-oriented one in the late 1980s, a number of major reforms occurred. As part of this, the Forest Protection and Development Act was passed in 1991 after a review conducted between 1989-1991 to reform a forestry sector considered to be weak, and to shift from a state-controlled sector towards community managed one.25 The law was amended in 2004 and 2016 to take into account more of the aspects of sustainable forest development determined in the review.26

Since then, the forestry sector has promoted a participatory approach, forests allocated to different forest users (including organizations and individuals), and encouraging the participation of the private sector for forest protection and production. A policy of decentralizing management to the grassroots level has also been implemented.27 According to a report by Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, state-managed forest land fell from 80.1% in 2000 to 45.2% in 2015, with the non-state sector correspondingly growing from 19.9% % to 54.8%. Households and individuals were allocated 3,146 million ha.28 However, problems remain. The renewal and development of organizational forms are still slow, the surrounding forestry companies are not self-reliant, financial resources are unstable, and forest owners do not have incentive to help protect the forest.29 

From 1990 to the present, Vietnam has had the support of international organizations to invest in many programs and projects, including:

  • the 327 Program (1993-1998) and 5 Million hectares Afforestation Program (1998-2010) 30
  • World Bank’s Forest sector development project (2004-2011)31
  • The Project of Modernizing the Forestry Sector and Strengthening the Resilience of Coastal Areas (on going since 2017)32

Vietnam has also had projects to improve forest cover and quality as well as increase the economic value of timber products and contribute to meet domestic demand and export to the world market funded by development partners from Japan, the Netherlands, Finland, and Germany.33

Forest Protection

The forest sector was one of the first natural resource sectors in Vietnam to develop policies on protection and development.34 Some notable recent policies and mechanisms include:

  • Decree No. 05/2010 / ND-CP on establishment of Forest Protection and Development Fund35
  • Decree No. 99/2010 / ND-CP on payment for forest environment services36
  • Decree No. 75/2015 / ND-CP on mechanisms and policies for forest protection and development; and
  • Policy for fast and sustainable poverty reduction and support for ethnic minorities from 2015-202037

In addition, the government has approved the Sustainable Forest Management and Forest Certification Program 2016-202038 to meet the requirements of the domestic and international markets for legally sourced timber and to enhance the economic value of wood products.39

In general, an improvement in policies has helped to improve the regulation of forests. Policies now are more comprehensive, state management by law has progressed, and social awareness of the forest sector is increased.40 The quantity and quality of forests have improved in the last few years, and turnover in the forestry sector has resulted in economic growth. Communities have benefited from the increase in financial support and job creation from this growth.41

However, not all of the objectives of sustainable forest management, protection and development have been achieved as planned. Some national-level programs and projects have also been implemented poorly and slowly. For example, Vietnam has not yet issued sustainable forest management principles, criteria, and procedures. Implementing agencies lack human resources, as well as the technical knowledge to implement the policies. Policies on ownership and use of forestland are inadequate.42

Implementation is also limited because law enforcement in the sector is perceived as weak; laws and regulations are not strictly followed, and sanctions are not strong enough to act as a deterrent. The government’s own monitoring is perceived to be purely administrative, leaving room for corruption.43 Furthermore, the role of local stakeholders is regularly underestimated.44

In 2016, with the support of the Finnish government, Vietnam’s online forestry sector data sharing system was launched to publicize industry data. Users can access up-to-date information on forest resources. Data on forest development and national forest inventory data (spatial and attribute) from 1990 to 2016 are available, up to the forest block unit. This system is intended to help Vietnam enforce the 2017 Forest Law, as well as planning for sustainable management of forests and achieving export targets for timber and forest products in the coming years. However, two years after its launch, this webpage appears to host very little data.

Going forward, Vietnam needs to control the conversion of forest land to other use purposes, promote societal understanding of forestry investments, and allocate forest leases to organizations, households and individuals.45 Mechanisms, policies and legislation should be finalized, such as amending and supplementing the Forest Law in line with other relevant laws like the Constitution and the Land Law.46 The management system, from central to local levels, needs to be renewed, with a focus on enhancing the roles, responsibilities and working conditions of commune forest rangers.47


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