The governance capacity of forest land allocation policy in Vietnam

D. Thi Kim Phung

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The issue of what drives and sustains collective action is pertinent to natural resource management, given the continuing depletion of public goods around the world. The issue is especially important for forestry. Since the early 1980s, forest devolution has become a major trend in forestry reforms in the developing world. It is held that involving local people in forestry and enabling them to benefit from forests will generate sustainable forest management. However, the devolution of forest rights from the central state to local actors has had varied effects. This disparity has inspired a great volume of literature on factors behind the effects of forest devolution. However, there is still a lack of knowledge of various governance aspects in forest devolution processes, and particularly of how actors define the collective goals, how they interact and what their strategies in forest devolution are.

The research presented in this thesis contributes to filling these knowledge gaps by studying a specific forest devolution policy, namely the policy of forest land allocation (FLA) in Vietnam. By involving local people in forestry, the policy is expected to improve both forest condition and local livelihoods. Although a considerable number of studies have provided insights into the effects of FLA, they were mainly carried out in the central highlands and northwest uplands of Vietnam and focused on forest-related factors. Not much attention has been paid to governance in the FLA policy. Although studies have paid attention to local people in the policy, local perspectives on the policy have not been thoroughly examined.

The overall aim of the present study was to gain in-depth knowledge of the effects of the FLA policy by assessing its governance capacity in different regions of Vietnam. Since what constitutes governance capacity is still under discussion in the governance literature, the secondary aim was to develop a framework for assessing the governance capacity of the policy. The first research aim was operationalized into the following three research questions:

How did the FLA policy in Vietnam come about, and to what extent did national forestry discourses influence the policy?To what extent has the FLA policy had the capacity to involve actors, particularly local people, in different regions of Vietnam; and what factors have determined this capacity?What has been the performance of the FLA policy in different regions of Vietnam, and what factors have determined this performance?

To achieve the second research aim, a framework was developed to guide the assessment of governance capacity.

The research employed the nested approach to case studies, which situates the FLA policy under the general case of Vietnam’s forestry reforms, which in the past 20 years have been characterized by changing forestry discourses. The case of the FLA policy includes three nested cases in three regions of Vietnam (southeast lowlands, central highlands and northwest uplands). Fieldwork was carried out in three provinces (Tay Ninh, Dak Lak and Lao Cai). Data collection included a literature review, document analysis, semi-structured interviews, a questionnaire survey and personal observations. In total, 152 key informants were selected by snowball and saturation sampling. These informants were policy and decision makers, officials in forestry and land management sectors, representatives of provincial governments and local authorities, forest owners and forestry contractors, and local villagers. The survey involved 288 forestry contractors or forest owners. Data from different sources was triangulated before processing. The method of Miles and Huberman (1984) was applied to analyze qualitative data. Simple statistics with frequencies and cross tabulation were employed to analyze data from the questionnaires.

This thesis consists of six chapters. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the thesis. Chapter 2 analyzes the discursive background against which the FLA policy has been developed. The framework that was developed to guide the assessment of the governance capacity of the FLA policy is presented in Chapter 3. The framework is based on the theoretical perspectives of the policy arrangement approach.  Governance capacity consists of institutional capacity – namely the degree to which rules and procedures enable actors to work together in order to solve collective problems – and governance performance, that is, whether a policy arrangement actually achieves collective goals. The framework consists of three elements: enabling rules of the game, converging discourses and facilitating resource mobilization. These elements are further operationalized as relevant aspects and criteria for the assessment of the governance capacity of the FLA policy. Institutional capacity is assessed in terms of four criteria: codification of rights, venues, open attitudes and resource availability. Governance performance is evaluated according to four criteria: the practising of property rights, social learning, forest condition and contribution of the policy to local people’s income. Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 apply the framework to assess the governance capacity of the FLA policy. Chapter 6 synthesizes the study’s findings and presents theoretical and methodological reflections on forest devolution and governance capacity

The thesis yields in the three key conclusions on the governance capacity of the FLA policy in Vietnam. First, the two national forestry discourses, namely forestry socialization and sustainable forest management, under Vietnam’s forestry reforms since 1991, have shaped the development of the FLA policy over the past 20 years. By maintaining the leading role state actors in forest land allocation, they advocate the restricted access to forest lands and limited property rights of non-state actors involved in the policy. Second, the institutional capacity of the FLA policy is low because of the limited codification of rights, rather symbolic venues for actors’ deliberation, local people’s low interest in forest rehabilitation, and the limited availability of forests, funding and information for forest rehabilitation. Third, trade-offs between the achievement of the two policy goals (improving the forest condition and local incomes from forests) have shaped the low governance performance of the FLA policy. These trade-offs result from the combined influences of social learning and property rights on actors’ cooperation in the policy. On the basis of these conclusions, the thesis goes on to discuss the key factors that determine the effects of forest devolution (property rights, social learning and external factors), and the interlinkage between the institutional capacity and governance performance of FLA policy. The thesis then evaluates the strengths, shortcomings, and applicability the governance capacity framework. After reflecting on the research methods used in the study, the thesis draws out policy implications for the FLA policy and forest devolution. Besides the improvements of property rights, clear shared responsibilities of actors involved are crucial to promote more active involvement of non-state actors, particularly local people.  Local meetings should facilitate a true deliberation that allow actors to reach some reconciliation concerning the collective goals. Other technical and policy measures to improve the values of forests (such as NTFPs and environmental services) are of special importance to sustain and increase actors’ income from forests. Macro policy planning should pay more attention to the possible trade-offs among different land uses and frequent reviews and revisions of the policy are necessary to keep up with changes in both the broader socioeconomic contexts and the local conditions. For forest devolution, the institutional design of forest devolution should take into consideration not only property rights but also other governance issues, and encompass both substantive and organizational aspects of forest devolution. More attention should be paid to the combined impacts of property rights and social learning on resource uses and resource conservation. Especially, the thesis shows that the changing governance in forest devolution is not a ‘hollowing out’ of the state in forestry. State actors both at the central and provincial levels still play important roles in forest devolution.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Arts, Bas, Promotor
  • Visseren-Hamakers, Ingrid, Co-promotor
Award date10 Sep 2014
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462570740
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • forest policy
  • forestry
  • governance
  • government policy
  • allocation
  • vietnam

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