The purpose of the Conference was to address (1) problems, management practices and policies related to watershed forests and river basin management; (2) enhance an open discussion of watershed forests and river basin management in Vietnam, learn from international, national and local experiences; (3) propose solutions and initiatives for the protection and management of river basins and watershed forests with a focus on implications from climate change.

Another important purpose of the Conference was to draw attention and raising awareness of concerned public on the protection and management of rivers and watershed forests, identify roles of relevant parties will and create a link among parties for future actions.

The Conference was hosted by the Center for Biodiversity Development (CBD), Institute of tropical Biology (ITB) in collaboration with the following co-conveners The Norwegian Institute for Environment and Agriculture Research (Bioforsk), Norway, IUCN Vietnam, Vietnam River Network (VRN) and Bidoup-Nui Ba National Park.

A range of stakeholders from local, national and international settings were represented among the more than 90 participants.

This summary of the key messages from the two days of discussions was sent to participants, as well as concerned persons/organizations on behalf of the Conference Convener.

Participants of the conference


Natural Environmental Issues:  A common theme across presentations is that changes in watersheds during the past few decades has yielded a decrease in biodiversity, an increase in pollution, and decreases in water quantity and quality at both regional and local levels.

The talk “Water and Climate Change: Challenges to IWRM in Vietnam” by Dr. Le Anh Tuan, DRAGON Center-Can Tho university

Social Environmental Issues:  A common theme across presentations is that these same changes have often come at a cost for local communities.  The have lost good agricultural lands, changes in water quantity and quality has affected their health, and there has been a significant decrease in river-based food resources

The Key note addressing “Integrated Water Resources Management : Needs, Constraints, Opportunities”, by Dr. Nils Vagstad, Research Director (Bioforsk)

Policy /Institutional Issues: A common theme across presentations is that an integrative approach is needed to best protect watershed forests and manage river basins in Vietnam. While there are a range of government policies that are relevant to this topic they rarely address multiple issues, rather one policy might focus on energy development, a second on environmental pollution control, a third on working with communities impacted by development, and a fourth for biodiversity protection as examples.  Because of this industry, scientists, human social workers, and other stakeholders may not pursue activities that are integrative.  These traditional approaches towards development, social conditions, and conservation are not sufficient to meet contemporary needs.

Mr. Graeme Swift, General Consulate of Australia in HCMC, is giving opinions in the Conference 


Time does not allow review of all of the insightful observations from this morning; here we list a number of specific messages to exemplify what was discussed this morning.

Natural Environmental Issues:

Soil seed banks are critical for vegetation propagation and maintenance of healthy forests and also important for rehabilitating and expanding “natural forests.”

A research compared ssbs in primary, secondary, and plantation forests in the upper tream of Mekong River in Yunnan, China showed that while the plantation forests had the largest soil seed banks they also had seed banks with limited diversity and increased levels of nonconstituent or invasive species, particularly herbs. Not only does this indicate a loss of biodiversity but it also yields a situation where restoration becomes much more challenging. This has important policy implications – forest plantations focusing on single species such as rubber and pomelo cannot be considered as healthy forest cover, rather, they yield a loss of biodiversity and provide a home to potential harmful nonconstituent plants.

Group discussion: Natural environment group

We also heard from a number of speakers about the natural environmental harm created by hydropower plants.  The construction is often associated with deforestation (and loss of agricultural lands).  The presence of dams modifies annual river flow cycles and water temperatures creating reproduction challenges to some species, and decreases biodiversity.

During the past decade there has been a significant decrease in the water quality of the Dong Nai River in pollutants occur at rates more 1 to 5 times acceptable national standards.  This creates not only a series health challenge to humans but to the biodiversity supported by the river.  It was also noted that results of water quality differed according to a Cambodian government study and that conducted by private scientists – this certainly points towards the importance of transparency in data collection and analysis so that stakeholders can understand the quality of a study and if additional research is needed.

Social Environmental Issues:

It was noted by a number of speakers that development along watersheds creates a range of social environmental issues.  As noted above there has been increased pollution in the Dong Nai River during the past decade due to a lack of residential and commercial waste management – raw sewage often pollutes the environment creating many serious and long lasting health issues.  It was also noted that not only does hydropower plant construction harm biodiversity it also often creates a range of social hardships.  For example, communities often have to be resettled.  In addition to losing the land that they have lived on and farmed, they often also lose important aspects of their cultural heritage.  This is quite frightening when one considers it is estimated that between 40 and 80 million people may be resettled due to dam construction along the Mekong River in the near future. 


Group discussion: Participants are discussing the social issues

Related to watersheds and river basin environments it was noted that a significant portion of the Vietnamese population live in the greater Red River and Mekong River deltas, much of which is lower than 10 meters in elevation.  A number of climate change models predict that during the coming decades sea levels are expected to rise by more than 3 meters – this will yield large areas of these deltas uninhabitable creating severe social hardship.

Lastly it was argued that some of the local communities living in and/or near forests (including protected areas) in Vietnam are indigenous and have maintained a reliance on forest products for livelihood.  Changing land use regulations and laws have required these people to modify their livelihoods yet little support is forthcoming to help with these significant changes.  Worse yet, it was argued that people from outside these local communities have been interfering with the lives of these people by encouraging them to participate in illegal activities for profit – this yields a terrible and non-sustainable extraction of natural resources and long-lasting environmental degradation the prevents continuation of traditional livelihoods.

Policy/Institutional Issues

We heard about numerous policy and institutional issues today. Impassioned pleas were voiced to stop construction of hydropower plants in Vietnam and the need for laws to protect indigenous communities.  A number of presenters shared information that might directly inform policy in Vietnam.  For example rubber plantations are a common part of the Vietnamese landscape but we learned that these plantations damage biodiversity in three ways: 1) biodiversity is decreased, 2) invasive species increase in frequency, and 3) the ability to regenerate natural forests is lost.  Given these facts, the Vietnamese Government should be encouraged to dramatically reduce the rate of conversion of natural forest to plantations.  We also heard that hydropower plants appear to be regulated by a number of policies, that these are not clearly linked to policies that regulate access to water, and that these policies are not closely linked to those that regulate environmental protection including clean water policies.  Obviously, this situation needs to be addressed by integrative planning – governmental agencies need to work together to develop policies that recognize the interconnected nature of these variables and attempt to address and manage them in a holistic fashion.  Additional policy issues:

§  Laws that are in place for biodiversity conservation need to be fully enforced.

§  Laws that are in place for environmental protection need to be fully enforced.

§  The needs of local communities should be considered as important as those of governmental and private industrial development.

§  Watershed and river basin management requires cooperation across provinces and countries due to their fluid nature in crossing political boundaries.

Institutional issues are similar:

Natural resource management Institutions must be able to work with Social resource management institutions.  In turn, these institutions need to be able to interact productively with Economic development Institutions.  Clearly, this is true for both governmental and non-governmental institutions.

Group discussion: Policy-governance group

This brings me to a concluding observation.  We did hear about success stories this morning at both local and regional issues. Regionally we heard about how European governments are working together to manage watershed and river basin issues. We also saw a videos on successful programs in southern India relating to both crop and water management.  At a very local level we heard about how Bidoup – Nui Ba National Park is successfully partnering with local communities on shared conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of livelihoods.  A common theme across these successful stories is that they are integrative, recognizing that natural and social environments overlap extensively and are deeply connected.  To successfully work with any portion of this complex nexus requires a careful consideration of both natural and social issues. To expand on these successes will necessitate cooperation among natural and social scientists and a range of additional stakeholders including local communities, local, provincial, and national governmental agencies, private industry, various NGOs, and often foreign governments, particularly when we are working on watershed forests and river basin management, the topic of this workshop.

Field visit to Giang Ly Forest Station, Bidoup Nui Ba National Park

Group discussions:

Results of group discussions were summarized as follows:




1.     Outsiders’ negative impacts on community

Better land management

2.     Poverty:

-        Lack of cultivation land and capital

-        Hard conditions of cultivation

-        Many children

-        Relying on government


Agricultural encouragement

Improve productivity

3.     Lack of participation in planning and management

Applying co-management

4.     Bad implementation of resettlement


Reducing resettlement

Deeply care about local culture when resettlement

5.     Habit of unsustainable use and poor awareness on natural resources

Awareness education

6.     Lack of benefit-sharing mechanism

Agreement for benefit-sharing mechanism

Applying PES




1.     Biodiversity reduction

-        Hunting

-        Habitat fragmentation

Inventory and monitoring on biodiversity

Improve livelihoods of forest-based community

2.     Forest degradation

-        Forest fire

-        Uncontrolled deforestation

-        Illegal harvest of forest products

-        Invasive alien species

Reforestation using native plants

Forest allocation to community (with monitoring)

Better implementation of forest policies

More money for forest protection

3.     Mineral exploitation without EIA

Better enforcement of laws

Science-based decision making

4.     Climate change and Micro-climate change

Change policy

More laws and regulations

More support for scientific research

Better cooperation among stakeholders

5.     Water resources reduction

Investment for research on sustainable use of water resources

6.     “Ecotourism” development

Sustainable use of natural resources

7.     Unsustainable human behavior

Change human behavior

Improve people and government’s awareness

8.     Dam construction

Reduce the number of hydropower plans

General planning and good implementation




1.     Lack of cooperation among regions and agencies

-  Improve transparency;

-   Review the effectiveness of cooperative agreements

-   Build up mechanisms for contiguous areas;

-   Basin commission, MRC;

-   Better implementation of agreements;

-   Involve regional NGOs

2.     Poor capacity in setting up and implementing policies

-   Ensure continuity of funding for capacity building in policyestablishment;

-   Research institutions involve more effectively in policy building.

3.     Inappropriate benefit sharing in natural resources management (population, culture, indigenous knowledge)

-   Research and assess on demands on sharing order of precedence;

-   Create a sustainable income for shared people.

4.     The overlapping of current laws and regulations

-   Check and revise related laws and regulations.

5.     Lack of mapping in national policies

-   Improve governmental awareness;

-   Strengthen dialogue, public debate;

-   Information propaganda.

6.     Inadequate participations of local community and gender in policy building

-    Improve community awareness;

-    Establish communication groups.


Presenting the results of group discussions

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