Game Changing New Technology for Forest Protection in Viet Nam

Every day, tens of thousands of rural folks get together in small groups to patrol Viet Nam’s forests. On their rounds they record evidence of illegal logging, hunting, and other forms of encroachment. They assess the condition of the forests that they are protecting, keeping an eye out for recent landslides and signs of animals.

For this work, they receive cash payments from provincial and district authorities that have been gathered from hydropower and water utility companies, and ecotourism operators. These rely on nearby forest watersheds being in good condition to naturally regulate the water resources and other ecological services that their operations depend on.

Since Viet Nam’s ambitious Payments for Forest Environmental Services (PFES) scheme was launched in 2010, some 500,000 local people have been mobilized to protect 5.6 million hectares of forests in 43 provinces. Nearly all these forests are under some form of legal protection, but boots on the ground are still essential to prevent encroachments.

In the central province of Thua Thien Hue, members of 6,500 households patrol 115,000 hectares of mountain forest. Much of this is happening in A Luoi district in the Central Annamite mountains, close to the border with the Lao PDR. A Luoi is one of the pilot sites where the CEP is working with the WWF and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to develop and test new monitoring approaches to improve Viet Nam’s PFES scheme.

One of the major challenges facing the scheme is ensuring that participating households are properly compensated. Another is making sure that information about the condition of the forests they are monitoring is detailed and timely enough to influence forest management decisions. Examples include reporting on important forest areas that may urgently need greater protection or on flash flood damage to access roads that may require remedial action.

The CEP’s pilot work is using the latest technology to overcome these challenges. Although in its early days, the signs are promising that it could be scaled up nationally, and so greatly improve the PFES scheme. Until now, patrollers have used global positioning system (GPS)-enabled mobile phones to make a visual record. On returning to their villages, the patrol leader writes a monitoring report and e-mails this, as well as the images, to provincial authorities.  With nearly 1,000 patrol groups sending monthly reports to the ministry’s provincial headquarters, this means a mountain of work to sort, assess, and act on the evidence. Mistakes and delays can easily occur.

To tackle this problem, the CEP developed a Web geographic information system (GIS) tool that will likely change the way the reporting is done. Equipped with a specially designed computer tablet, forest patrol groups take time-coded and GPS-defined photos at the starting point of their patrol. From then on, the route taken, including time and distance, is automatically recorded and mapped. Patrollers use the tablet to take pictures along the route, and add in notes and tick boxes to questions in required fields on the tablet’s software. The questions cover all the essential forest condition information that the authorities need. Back in their villages (or the nearest Wi-Fi signal), the information is uploaded to the provincial database and automatically sorted.

This tool has many advantages. For the patrollers, the paperless system means they no longer fill out onerous reports and make hand-written notes along the route (often hard in a torrential downpour). They also have better evidence that they have fulfilled their duties. With proof and more timely information on who patrolled what area and when, provincial authorities are able to issue payments more quickly and fairly.

The tool also enables new patrol groups and new PFES areas to be registered quickly and accurately. With a centralized database of pre-sorted information on forest conditions and trends, provincial authorities can make more informed decisions. As of December 2017, 528 forest patrol groups are being trained on the new software, and testing continues in pilot sites in Thua Thien Hue and Quang Nam provinces.

High level support for the monitoring tool is emerging. At a PFES review meeting held in Ha Noi in early December 2017, the deputy director of the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry, Nguyen Ba Ngai, expressed his strong support to the tool being scaled up nationwide.

Applying the system in all PFES provinces would enable a national database to be created. This would provide the central government with unprecedented insights into what is happening on-the-ground in many of Viet Nam’s most important forest areas. It would also help them finetune the national PFES system to operate at peak efficiency.

“With this new system we can better protect our forests, and importantly, we can do this more transparently and equitably.”
-- Mr. Nguyen Xuan Hien, Director, Forest Protection and Development Fund, Thua Thien Hue Province, Viet Nam

Publish Date: 27th February 2018

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