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Vietnam Conservation Project: Protection and Sustainable Use of Plant Resources

Volume 3 Number 5 - December 2000

Fiona Dennis

The Tam Dao National Park is situated 80 km north-west of Hanoi. The protected area of the Park extends over three mountains and contains primary Dipterocarp forest. The Park contains a wealth of hitherto undocumented fauna and flora and research is needed to record its biodiversity. Severe pressure is placed on the Park through the wild harvesting of plants for medicine, food and fuel. Timber extraction has led to serious deforestation and severe erosion on the slopes of the Park buffer zone threatening flash floods and mud slides. There was a need to gather baseline information and initiate home gardens to promote the sustainable use of the Park's plant resources.

A collaborative project between BGCI, the Centre for Research and Development of Ethnomedicinal Plants (CREDEP), Vietnam, the Tam Dao National Park and the Research and Training Centre for Community Development (RTCCD), Vietnam was carried out over three years. The project was funded by the U.K. Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species, UK and was completed in June 2000.

The main objectives of this project were to:

  • undertake ecological research into the useful and endangered plant species of the Tam Dao National Park;
  • establish a botanic garden in Tam Dao National Park to provide plant material for home gardens and forest restoration;
  • undertake an anthropological investigation to assess the wild harvesting and utilization of plants from the Tam Dao National Park; and
  • undertake community based trials for novel crops for rural sustainable development.

The Investigation

The project's anthropologists worked with the people of three local villages Ho Son, Dao Tru and Quan Chu and Tam Dao Town using Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques (PRA). This ensured that the members of these rural communities were fully involved in the project and that their views were incorporated in project management decisions. Many individual interviews and repeat visits were made by the staff of the RTCCD, which gradually established trust and understanding between investigator and participant. 120 households were interviewed and information on the ethnic background, economic circumstances, level of health care available and use of plant material was documented. A thorough inventory of the wild-harvested plants used in the six villages was completed using free-listing interview techniques. 613 taxa were identified, of which 361 were of medicinal value, 86 were used as vegetables, 104 were sources of timber, 104 were fruit trees and 103 were identified as locally rare and threatened species.

Ecological research included the establishment of 100 permanent transects enabling the documentation of species diversity and ultimately, a definitive description of vegetation types. Data management software (DECODA and TWINSPAN) were used to analyze the information and draw conclusions from the baseline information.

The results of this multi-disciplinary research produced baseline information on local plant utilization, variations in use between ethnic groups and the ecological background against which wild harvesting is taking place. Experimenting with plant propagation techniques produced definitive propagation and cultivation protocols. This information contributed to the production of Conservation Guidelines in brochure form for distribution to the local villages. These Guidelines provide a valuable tool for both wild harvesters looking for sustainable harvesting techniques and for farmers wishing to cultivate novel crops.


The training courses were hosted by the village leaders in the target villages and were only made possible by the cooperation of the villagers themselves. The first part of the course involved conservation
awareness-raising activities in which the ideas and concepts of conservation were explored. The course also included a significant practical element introducing basic horticultural techniques and the construction of small propagation units. Using low technology and locally available materials the propagation units provide a sustainable home-production unit for the cultivation of novel crops.

Participant training involved both practical demonstrations in the field and class-room based lectures. Dr Peter Wyse Jackson (BGCI) lectured on botanic garden management and record keeping. Professor Tran Cong Khanh (CREDEP) lectured on the endemic flora and the current threats to the plant diversity of the region. Dr Steve Waldren (Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland) demonstrated ecology and field techniques, including the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). The author gave instruction on horticultural techniques and nursery practices. Further training was undertaken in the field by Tran Van On during routine monitoring and inventorying of the forest transects. Five Park staff were trained to use DECODA and TWINSPAN to analyse data collected from the transects.

The Botanic Garden

The author spent several weeks in the Park between 1998-2000 supporting the development of the garden. This included staff training in plant collecting protocols, propagation, horticulture and nursery management. The Tam Dao Garden of Useful Plants, Vietnam was officially opened on the 10th June, 2000 by the acting British Ambassador, Jane Owens.


This was a thoroughly integrated project combining the knowledge and skills of local people, foresters, ethnobotanists, anthropologists, herbalists, pharmacists, taxonomists and horticulturists. This work has provided a useful model for researchers trying to balance the sustainable use of wild resources, local community needs and the restrictions inherent in protected areas. Internationally, this project has been a catalyst for the development of similar work in other regions of the world (e.g. Ghana, BGCNews 3(3): 37-39 December 1999).

This project supported a number of national organisations to carry out practical conservation in partnership with the local communities. In supporting the Parks authorities to build the capacity of their staff to manage and safeguard the biodiversity of this protected area the project has helped to ensure the sustainable utilization of the Park's resources. The primary end-users of this project were the Kinh, Dao, San Diu and San Chay minority peoples who depend on wild harvesting for a vast range of plant species found in the Tam Dao National Park. They have benefited from the supply of young propagules of useful plants from the Garden and horticultural training to enable them to cultivate many of the species they previously collected from the wild.

A key factor in the success of this project was that the local people clearly recognized the forest as a vital resource in their daily lives. Participants were all keen to take responsible action to ensure the future availability of wild plant species The villagers were all farmers and embraced the opportunity to diversify their crops and look for new niche markets to enhance their income.

Throughout the project there was a process of selection of wild collected specimens for propagation and cultivation. Far from being undesirable this indicated that future plant sources are more likely to be taken from cultivated stock than from wild-sourced material. This will have a direct impact on the Park and promote the value of the forest as a source of material from which to propagate rather than to simply.harvest.

An important lesson learnt from this project was the need to link cultivation projects with the market place. Without market considerations, a project is missing the final link to ensure it has endurance and remains a sustainable option for the local population. As a direct consequence of this project a number of new species have been bought into cultivation. These will need marketing to ensure their long-term involvement in the farmer's annual cropping plans. Surprising opportunities presented themselves. For example, in one case, a vine commonly known as Bo Khai, proved easy to cultivate (99% success rate). This is a delicacy in restaurants in the north east of Vietnam and has the potential to command high prices in the market place. The farmers were keen to develop this crop and access new markets.

One remarkable outcome of this project has been the commitment of the Park authorities to the development of the region. The establishment of this small garden has acted as a catalyst for extensive new plans to build another far larger adjacent garden. Consequently, The Garden of Useful Plants will become the primary nursery facility for both the community and the new garden as well as provide material for the local reforestation activities of the Park authorities. The authorities are intending to develop the new garden as a centre for environmental education and eco-tourism. The initial infrastructure now includes a heavy-duty road and staff accommodation. These developments indicate that there will be a great deal of public as well as scientific interest in the forest.

The Garden is now an integral part of the development of the community home-gardens and the re-greening of the Park buffer zone. Above all, this project has established a very positive relationship between the Park and the communities that use the Park's resources. Although many of the staff of the Park are from these local communities, the relationship in the past has been one of conflict and distrust. The illegal collecting of plant material from the Park has always placed the Park's authorities in the unenviable position of being the primary threat to the both basic needs and additional income benefiting local people. Regular confiscations of wood and other non-timber forest products has resulted in a negative relationship between park officials and the local population. Today, the Parks authorities and the local people are working together to create home gardens, develop harvesting protocols and restore much of the degraded forest.

BGCI would like to thank our collaborators in Vietnam, Professor Tran Cong Khanh (CREDEP), Tran Van On (RTCCD), Mr Do Dinh Tien, Director of the Tam Dao National Park and Dr Peter Wyse Jackson (BGCI) for the vision and commitment in realising this valuable project. BGCI would also like to thank the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species for funding this project. BGCI is very grateful to the Tam Dao National Park authorities who kindly provided accommodation, food and transport throughout the time that overseas staff stayed in the Tam Dao National Park.