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Final Days of Vietnam

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The villagers’ decision to start the inventory in the new year spelled the end of my direct involvement in implementation in Vietnam. My plan to engage with the villagers directly and take portrait pictures that would present the personal side of this foresting situation was stymied by a directive from above: no-one goes to the forest until the new year. The threat of the ethnic minorities rioting around Christmas (and the poor impression the government’s ‘suppression tactics’ might engender) was probably the main motivation for preventing any international personnel from entering the sensitive areas. Writing in 2010, the inventory is presently underway and going well but the preliminary results are as poor as we had feared. The forests in Thon 4 have not only been ravaged by deforestation but also high degradation of what is left.

In the remaining weeks in Vietnam we travelled to Hanoi to meet with other GTZ members working in the Green sector. We presented some of our results for Thon 6, including estimates of the carbon content lost to deforestation and degradation in the last 5 years. The results were shocking. The majority of the carbon lost was through degradation of the forest and not from clear deforestation. This poses a problem, that we demonstrated at the end of the talk, how easy is it to identify where the forest has degraded? It has always been known that monitoring degradation will be important for REDD but it has been considered as a minor effect so that much of the focus continues to be on remote sensing. But if it is not possible to remotely sense degraded forests accurately then there needs to be a shift in technological focus. The picture below compares the most extreme cases of carbon content and illustrates the challenge that faces the monitoring of REDD:

Forests with different carbon contents can be seen from above.

However, this is a very extreme case and there is a lot of carbon to be lost in between!

Along with the issue of enforcement or at least monitoring of the degradation of the forest is the effect on the situation when money from REDD is actually envisaged. For example, will the money be a universally decided value for a tonne of carbon dioxide or will there be different prices for countries with different median incomes? If the universal rate is too low then people in more developed countries will lack the incentive to protect the forest and people in less developed countries will be being paid more than they would be willing to receive to protect the trees. But where do you stop? Should the pricing be based on the per-hectare opportunity cost of not cutting down the trees? Since carbon dioxide is an artificial commodity inasmuch as the price would be set by market change outcome and not according to supply or demand then the price should be the one that reduces the amount of carbon the most without disrupting local markets too greatly. This sounds a lot like a case for opportunity cost based pricing but how would that be regulated? And how would we build that kind of thinking into a forest management approach where the land would not be completely cleared and the cost is the lost timber-sales revenue? These are questions that are not being answered quickly enough.

Written by calumdavey

January 13, 2010 at 11:33 am

Posted in Dak Nong, Vietnam

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Pre-inventory Meeting

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Flickr Slideshow of the Thon 4 Meeting

Yesterday we travelled to Thon 4 (village 4) to meet with the villagers and start the forest inventory process. I took a lot of pictures and you can follow the meeting with the slideshow above.

Unfortunately, the farmers were not available for the dates we hoped to do the inventory since they are busy harvesting their crops from the fields.  There seemed to be some political element to this since the local government representative was particularly adamant that if there was any future hardship related to this crop cycle then the political party might take the blame.  When the ethnic minorities are concerned politics becomes an even greater influence over action.

Written by calumdavey

November 27, 2009 at 3:24 am

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Planning and Action

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The weeks fly by.  On Monday I outlined my activities for the five weeks that I will be in Vietnam.  These activities fell within two overarching projects: the website for the project and the google sponsored REDD work.

The website is very simple, necessarily, so that the content management system (a front-end for website management) can be maintained after I am gone by someone who has less experience, less time, with websites.  With the overall architecture of the site completed all I need now is data to populate the fields.  Using Google Docs (appropriately) I’ve asked all staff members to write about themselves and their particular project components.  Then, next week, I will meet with everyone individually to edit and confirm what they have written, collect useful documents and take a nice profile picture.  We should then have a completed site, now for permission to put it online…


The areas in green are known plantations but elsewhere we expect forest according to 2008 data. This image is from 2009 and shows the degree of deforestation that has happened in one year.

REDD-wise the main focus is getting the forest inventory of Thon 4 underway.  The inventory of Thon 6 was largely successful but there was the problem that the maps we used overestimated the area of forest and so when I scattered random points on the map as sites for measurement, a small proportion fell outside of the forest area.  Good for the mapping, bad for the forest inventory.  So, this time around I am updating the forest map carefully and not underestimating the villagers’ capacity to cut down trees.  Preliminary investigation reveals that in a single year large parts of the forest have been cut down.  Making a reliable map is more difficult because the deforestation often occurs as pockets within the forest, rather than just working in around the edges.  Walk into the forest for a day, start up the chainsaw and cut down everything around you.  Simple.

In other news, getting up at early here is a delight, the mornings are beautiful and from my hotel window I can watch the mist between the mountains melt away with the sun creeping overhead.  The weather is getting difficult in the office because both of the overhead fans have exploded but long Vietnamese lunches skip the worst of it.

Written by calumdavey

November 11, 2009 at 1:45 am

Posted in Dak Nong, Vietnam

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Moving forward

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This week’s been fraught with problems for the forestry component of the project so it has been difficult to put together a comprehensive plan about where we are going with REDD until today.

We’ll be doing another forest inventory of a region very near to the last one.  So, first of all, I will try to update the forest map as best I can with satellite images and field visits so that when we place the measurement points we don’t end up in the middle of coffee plantations.  Like last time.  I’m then going to put together a short questionnaire for the M’Nong villagers who help with the inventory, with questions about them and their lives.  Those data, along with some nice profile shots, will be a great addition to the map data once it is online; it will show that we really got to know the local people and put faces to the issues in the area.  These will, of course, be incorporated into Google Earth as balloons so they’ll pop up in context as people are using the site.

Getting a hold of good satellite imagery is turning out to be a bit of a problem but at this planning stage it might be enough to use LANDSAT images although a) the resolution is a bit weak and b) the recent images have these annoying blank lines through them because of a fault on the satellite itself in 2003.  We’ll make do, of course, but will be begging the people from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency who are here next week to lend us theirs…

Written by calumdavey

November 6, 2009 at 11:29 am


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Why is it that the world’s leading GIS software company make it so much less than simple to import rich GPS data?  Having spent much of the morning tracking down a nice program that works we can now see some of the additional points we made splayed out on the map.  The rest is joining the dots.

These extra points are largely Christian’s attempt to find the boundary of the region of forest, normally a prerequisite for forestry itinerary planning, but in our case the forest is so scattered and the undergrowth so thick that hacking through that enormous perimeter would take weeks and weeks of expensive time.

Having those GPS data in place I spent the afternoon testing classes in MultiSpecCarb so that when we have good satellite images, the processing will be a breeze…

Written by calumdavey

November 4, 2009 at 2:53 am

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Out in the woods

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Out in the woods there’s only the rustle of the trees, the crunching of sticks and the screeching of the cicadas to break the silence of our single-file team of 5 farmers and a technician as we wind between the trees quarrying the coordinates in our GPS.CBD_0006

At least most of the time.  Occasionally we were knee deep in swamp and very often stopped by the undergrowth, forced to hack our way through while a surprisingly large number of spiky things dragged at our clothes and skin. But those things make it sound like it was not fun, and it was a lot of fun indeed.

The measuring went very well, it is simple once everyone knows their place in the drill.  Christian noted that the M’Nong farmers were much more sensitive to the different tree species than the outsiders and so by the second day we were all supposed  to be recording the infinity of M’Nong tree names.  This did not slow us down at all as the farmers seemed to know the plants inside out: only once did they stop to sniff and chew every part of one plant that they did not to recognize and even differentiating between the flavor of the skin of the stalk and its leaves.


Occasionally, the friction as we passed through became too much and we were forced to skirt the edges of what was normally an area where uncontrolled deforestation had left a thick undergrowth.  It was also depressingly common to find that places marked as forest on the map are now coffee, sweet potato or cassava plantations.  We will have to wait and see what the new map looks like and the picture of deforestation that we’re looking at.

Written by calumdavey

November 2, 2009 at 3:29 pm

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Getting out into the sunshine…

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Like my little Honda, things can be slow when you’re battling up-hill.  But we’re getting somewhere at least and the only frustration is that I have not been available as an active player yet.

The forest inventories are coming going and Christian spent much of his weekend training and re-training so that we are ready to get out and measure the trees this week.  The plan is to directly measure


1% of the forest and I have drawn up a set of random points within the area that we can quickly locate, demarcate and measure up.  Some doubted that the villagers could read numbers well enough to record the diameters of the trees accurately, so Christian drew a note out of his pocket and asked, “how much is this?” “50,000 Dong” rang out the chorus: case proven.  The villagers are more capable than some people hasten to think.

With steep slopes and the ravages of deforestation leaving a thick undergrowth, measuring the forest is not entirely straight forward.  With 1% measured we have 126 locations and 4 teams which means, for all practical purposes, we need to get measurements down to 4-5 per day.  That’s some fast work.

Written by calumdavey

October 26, 2009 at 3:22 am

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Start-up with the project

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Dak Nong, Vietnam is an extremely comfortable five hours journey north of Ho Chi Minh City.  The proximity to Cambodia and the diversity of this five year old central highlands province has left it rather sensitive about international personnel who make requests to work.  This might make one wonder why anyone would work in this region at all.   Well, a recent study showed that Dak Nong has some of the highest forest coverage of any province and that over a 7 year period the forest has been diminished or degraded fastest: a good reason for forestry projects to locate here.  It is important to note that some the sensitivity of the region is related to the ethnic minorities that live here and that they’re arguably more in need of outside assistance than any other group.


Although I am here with CartONG I am working under the auspices of GTZ.  GTZ is a German technical assistance group that has a number of projects scattered throughout the country.  They’re working on all manner of economic and ecological development projects but from my perspective, the most relevant project is a Community Forest Management project which aims to maximize the opportunity for wealth creation from timber while maintaining the overall structure of the forest for ecological purposes.  CFM works by allowing timber cutting to take place but in according to a sustainable plan.  This requires a lot of collaboration with villagers on the ground and relies rather heavily on the participation of local government.  Additionally, CFP gets people in and around the forest which fosters good conditions for ecological protection.  We hope that we can build a CFM plan into the carbon content model that will estimate stable and dynamic changes in the forest’s carbon capture capabilities.

We have just confirmed that next week we’ll head out into one of the study sites and, with the help of local people and hordes of forestry students, make a forest inventory that can be used in the carbon capture models.  This will be an exciting opportunity to get into the field, get out the GPS and make some maps.

Written by calumdavey

October 15, 2009 at 1:38 am