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H’re, Gia Rai and Ro Ngao people share customary knowledge and experiences in sustainable forest management
The Livelihood Sovereignty Alliance (LISO) in collaboration with the Kon Tum Union of Science and Technology Associations organized a trip to Kon Plong and Sa Thay districts of Kon Tum province from November 10 - 13, 2014 for  representatives from the H’re in Po E commune and the Gia Rai and Ro Ngao in Ho Moong commune to share their experiences of community forest management.

Violak villagers use customary law to protect forests

Like other villages in Kon Tum province the H’re people in Violak (Kon Plong district) now have the local protection forest management board (PFMB) and state forest enterprise (SFE) on their doorstep in control of much of their forest. They have held on to some, and are managing it in accordance with their customary laws, maintaining the community cultural and religious space (where the Spirits, namely ‘Giàng’ reside) and the source of livelihood, the ‘Giọt nước’ or ‘water drops’.

Mr. Pan from Violak sharing experience in forest management and protection

Violak has also established teams of forest monitors to protect land allocated to household. Thiis village has shown great community spirit – although the government allocated land to only 21 households, the village’s leaders re-divided the land to all 72 households currently living in the village. Representatives of 21 households become heads of the guarding teams, who ask the team members to patrol the forest on a regular basis for protection. 
A small dam in Violak
Excellent forest protection in Violak has ensured that the Nong stream is full of water around the year. This is an important stream, not only for drinking water but also supplying the Vi Noong paddy field which accounts for about 28% (12 hectares) of the total village wet rice cultivated area. The community has shown community spirit as households take turns to maintain embankments and stone dams running water directly to their fields to ensure the appropriate water level. They are self-sufficient in rice. “When the rice house (also called the National Reserve) is full, we are never afraid of being hungry, even if one or two crops fail” said Mr. Pan from Violak.

Ho Moong villagers visiting rice houses in Violak

A contrast picture in Ho Moong commune

The first impression on villagers from Violak visiting Ho Moong commune, was the heat and then the landscape, some hills bare, others covered with the uniform green of industrial plantations. As they explored the commune’s villages they were dismayed by the almost empty wells. They then understood clearly the impact of forest clearance around water sources.

Mr. Thai sharing his feelings about the loss of forest in Ho Moong commune

Whilst Violak villagers  still have much of their livelihood and cultural spaces, the villages in Ho Moong commune have been artificially created and filled with people displaced by the Plei Krong hydropower dam construction. The majority of commune forest has been replaced by rubber, coffee and cassava.
However, after almost 3 years of resettlement, the villages still have insufficient land to support themselves, they land they do have poor and dry, forcing them to plant cassava. Only a small amount of land for wet rice has been utilized by the villagers on their own initiative.  Most of their meager income comes from selling cassava, which they then use to buy rice.

Flora surrounding the Plei Krong hydro-power reservoir
Sharing with the Violak villagers, Mr. Ka Duu from Ka Bay village said: “First we found a water source that could run to the village, then built the clean water system and now we protect the forest as a community. We have banned agriculture or shifting cultivation and the spraying of pesticides in the water catchment area. Anyone breaking the rules will be heavily fined. We also have an agreement with the South Paper Company, who have planted pine trees in the watershed forest. In return for them not burning undergrowth or praying in the water catchment, we help them to protect their forest.   After getting the stable water supply for the village, the next step for Ka Bay villagers was to request the Commune People’s Committee (CPC) to allocate the forest they were protecting to their community.

Mr. Duu from Ka Bay village describing the process of finding the water source for the community

In the 2013, thanks to the coordination between the Sa Thay District People’s Committee (DPC), Kon Tum Union and LISO, the community in Ka Bay has been given the right to protect over 30 ha of watershed forest. They also set out village regulations strictly protecting the allocated forestland. Every year each household voluntarily gives VND 20,000 to to support the guarding team’s activities and to protect the water source. Up to date, the forest and water source have been well protected.

Mr Nguyen Van Niem, chairman of Ho Moong CPC sharing the history of Violak and how the villagers regained their livelihoods
Following the example of Ka Bay village, the other villages in Ho Moong commune also requested the local government to allocate watershed forestland to the communities for their protection. In 2014 the villages of Dak Yo, Dak Vok and Ko Tu are scheduled to be allocated 55,4 ha of watershed forestland by the Sa Thay DPC. The villages have already banded together to form forest protection teams.  

 Traditional forest map of Violak in Po E commune
The visit wrapped up with traditional dances, and people joining hands to the accompaniment of beautiful sound of gongs and drums, adding warmth and reflection to a successful exchange. I felt the participants’ growing determination to maintain and improve their livelihood and cultural spaces.  
They have much to think about – on the one hand successful re-allocations and their sustainable management, and on the other, the suffering caused by hydro-power and industrial agricultural schemes. Forests are depleting quickly, land is getting dryer, water becoming more scarce whilst their cultural and livelihood spaces narrow.
Vu Van Thai (CIRUM)
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