As a forest-rich country in an era where global carbon dioxide levels are climbing toward an ominous 400 parts per million, Viet Nam is a key area in which carbon dioxide sequestration must take place. However, Viet Nam’s forests have been threatened for decades. In 1943, as much as 43% of Viet Nam’s surface area had been covered by forests, but the war caused a decade of devastation, with the United States spraying defoliants such as Agent Orange on vast swathes of forest in an effort to reduce forest cover in the 1960s. The damage resulting from this process is hard to quantify, but by the 1970s, the forest cover had fallen to as low as 17% of the country’s total area. The forests received a reprieve with the fall of the USSR, as the Government of Viet Nam instituted Doi Moi policies, which allowed for trade with foreigners and devolved the management of forests to the private sector. This as well as national and international initiatives to rebuild Viet Nam’s forests resulted in the forest cover almost returning to pre-war levels (39.7% of total area as of 2011).
Despite this good news, the battle is far from over, with factors such as illegal logging, unsustainable harvesting and forestry practices, hack-and-slash agriculture, forest fires, and infrastructural expansions to feed Viet Nam’s rapidly growing economy resulting in both deforestation and the general degradation in the quality and strength of Viet Nam’s forests. Furthermore, forest recovery projects active in Viet Nam are often hampered by the lack of accurate information with which to make decisions for appropriate and effective action.
Improved information for better decisions
The Development of a Management Information System for the Forestry Sector in Viet Nam (FORMIS) project was launched in 2009 to provide a solution to this lack of accurate information. FORMIS’s main objective is to establish a fully integrated management information system (MIS) to facilitate effective decision-making around forest management; reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD); and forest law enforcement, governance, and trade (FLEGT) activities. The FORMIS system provides a unified information and communications technology (ICT) platform where the relevant agencies can integrate their data and applications to serve better the Vietnamese forestry sector’s information, communications, and impact-monitoring needs. In doing so, FORMIS contributes to larger, long-term goals, namely the sustainable management of Viet Nam’s forest resources based on up-to-date information and the alleviation of poverty in line with Viet Nam’s socioeconomic development framework.
Phase I of the project (2009–2013) saw the creation of various systems for FORMIS on a pilot scale. FORMIS II, implemented by the Viet Nam Administration of Forestry (VNFOREST) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), focuses on the expansion of the most promising systems from Phase I. Financial support for Phase II is provided by the Governments of Finland and Viet Nam. NIRAS provides the technical assistance in collaboration with GFA Consulting (Germany) and Greenfield Consulting (Viet Nam).
As the project comes to a close, the sustainable use of FORMIS’s information systems seems likely even after the closure of the project. FORMIS’s resource database and forest resource monitoring system have been adopted for official use by VNFOREST, which means they will contribute directly to future sustainable forest management decisions.
Furthermore, the system and database are being used by over 750 forest administration agencies in 60 provinces, at all levels of the line of command, thus facilitating improved communication and more efficient decision-making.
The project’s efforts now centre on training users and IT teams in the use and maintenance of the system, the establishment of a legal environment that allows for a deeper use by and integration with the private sector, and the data integration of other forestry-related projects such as UN-REDD as well as other relevant government entities such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MONRE) and the General Statistics Office of Viet Nam (GSO).