Ho Da The at work on his FSC-certified acacia plantation, Phu Loc district, Vietnam. © James Morgan / WWF

Smallholders in Vietnam connected to global timber supply chains are pioneering a new model of sustainable plantation management.

What started as a gathering of small forest plantation owners in Central Vietnam has grown into a model of sustainable forestry that the Deputy Prime Minister recently recommended to be replicated nationwide -- a notable achievement thanks to a collaboration between the provincial government, Vietnamese smallholders, WWF and IKEA. This successful forestry model is benefiting local livelihoods while protecting forests and bringing more sustainable products into the global marketplace, an example of what is possible when a global company, an NGO and smallholders work together.
It began in 2006 when WWF and IKEA formed a partnership to transform the market landscape for key forest commodities such as acacia, rubber, rattan and bamboo, in the Greater Mekong region (Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand). The partnership aimed to create more sustainable supply chains in which smallholders and forest plantation companies delivered Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber for IKEA's global markets. 

The Greater Mekong has historically been an important player in the global timber market, but its natural forests have declined due to unsustainable logging. Although the region has faced high deforestation and forest degradation, forest area is now increasing in Vietnam due to increased investment in forest conservation, afforestation and reforestation, which has been supported by an improved policy environment that is supportive of sustainable timber plantations. 

In 2017, IKEA set a requirement for its suppliers, including in Vietnam, that only wood from more sustainable sources (FSC-certified or recycled) will be accepted within its supply chains. Responsible forest management in Vietnam remains a challenge because of high input costs of certification and a tendency toward short term harvesting cycles for quick revenue. 

In the face of these challenges, a group of forest smallholders in Thua Thien Hue Province decided they had more to gain from joining forces and collaborating. In that spirit, in 2018, the Hoa Loc Sustainable Forestry Cooperative was created, bringing together plantation owners under a single business entity committed to sustainable management practices through FSC certification. Being a part of the cooperative gives smallholders better access to financing and higher-end markets for their timber products, making it more financially viable than if the smallholders were on their own.
The members of the cooperative are a diverse group, ranging from producers to smallholders to seedling production enterprises and timber processing companies. After a year of operation, the cooperative established a nursery garden to produce high quality seedlings with biodegradable seedling bags and local processing facilities with wood coming from FSC Chain of Custody (CoC)-certified saw-mills, creating a supply chain that links up to furniture companies producing FSC-certified goods. A series of training courses on sustainable forest management, silviculture techniques, and labor safety has been of great benefit to members of the cooperative. 

The cooperative and its business have created more jobs and brought higher income for their members as well as the surrounding community. It’s a model that has brought interest from the highest levels of government in Vietnam. Truong Hoa Binh, Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam, recently visited the community and commended their work, and expressed an interest in helping expand the cooperative model to the rest of the country.   

The Hoa Loc Cooperative is exemplary of WWF’s vision of moving forest smallholders, who manage 37 per cent of planted forests in Vietnam, toward sustainable forest production and access to a responsible supply chain. 
To date, more than 21,000 hectares of plantation forest have been FSC certified in the Central Annamites Landscape of Vietnam, comprising Hue, Quang Nam and Quang Tri Provinces, under the WWF and IKEA partnership. The partnership aims to scale up this impact to the national and regional levels to ensure greater sustainability of supply chains and support local community livelihoods while minimizing deforestation and improving habitats for wildlife in landscapes that are important for biodiversity conservation.

By helping smallholders establish cooperatives and expand sustainable forest management to a wider expanse of the country, the partnership has demonstrated the power of connecting smallholders to global supply chains to transform markets for the better. It’s proof that every smallholder connected to the global sustainable supply chain makes a difference.

With the highest level of government behind this model of sustainable forestry, Vietnam can be seen as an example in the region of how to increase the value of forests, mainstream sustainable supply chains, protect biodiversity and wildlife and offer an inclusive model for communities to thrive for generations to come.