Timber death

The threat to deforestation comes from several basic reasons: the nature of the country's economy; its high population growth rate; firewood demand; shifting cultivation and fire damage; economic liberalisation; and, the pressure on the country to earn foreign exchange through biomass exports like wood and rice.

The per capita income of Vietnam is estimated to be less than US $200, which makes it one of the poorest countries in the world. Though the percentage of Vietnamese living in poverty has dropped from over 70 per cent in the mid-1980s to about 50 per cent today, about 52 per cent of Vietnamese children still remain malnourished. Nearly 80 per cent of the nation's approximately 78 million people live in rural areas and are engaged in agriculture or are dependent on natural resources for their survival. The country is, thus, largely, a biomass-based subsistence economy. But its per capita cultivated area is only 0.13 ha, amongst the lowest in the world. Vietnam is one of the most densely populated nations in the world; unless agricultural productivity increases substantially, there will be growing pressure on forests for conversion into farmlands.

With spreading habitation, Vietnam's rice fields first led to the destruction of forests in coastal and low-lying areas which are ideal for rice cultivation. With population growing over the centuries, farmlands have expanded steadily into hill and mountain regions. Even today, Vietnam is a major rice exporter. In 1992, the government had banned exports of unprocessed timber, but the impact of the ban on forests is unclear. The loss of jobs that this entails could generate more pressure on forests.