Improving women’s livelihoods by linking Conservation with rural development
As the morning mist rises over the green mountains, Lo Lo May straps a straw-woven basket onto her back and heads into the surrounding forest with her sister and the other women of Chu Kan Ho village.
The 33-year-old mother of three belongs to the ethnic Dao minority whose lives are inextricably linked to the abundant magnificent nature in Lao Cai, a province in the northwest of Viet Nam known for its mountains, rivers, waterfalls and ethnic hill tribes. The women possess indigenous knowledge of the uses of the forest’s medicinal plants to cure ailments – from headaches to fever to pregnancy pains. “My mother took me into the forest as soon as I was able to walk,” says May. “And I will do the same for my daughters. This tradition has been passed on for generations in our community.”
Forests currently cover 41 per cent of Viet Nam’s national territory. However, their contribution to the national economy only stands at a modest 1 per cent. Thus, while natural forests provide valuable timber and non-timber forest products, as well as essential ecosystem services, many communities still view them as a barrier to economic evelopment due to a lack of viable economic incentives.
Additionally, most people in Viet Nam use traditional medicines that source 90 per cent of their active ingredients from forests. Nearly 4,000 species of plants in Viet Nam can be used for medicine, yet only 5 per cent of these plants are being commercialized. With domestic revenues estimated at US$ 1.5 billion, Viet Nam still imports US$ 1.7 billion of medicinal plants annually, despite its potential to be a global export leader.
To help remedy this, the UN-REDD Viet Nam Phase II Programme has been actively working with the Government of Viet Nam to develop the market and partnerships for natural forest-based economic models. For example, in Lao Cai province, public-private partnerships are being piloted between provincial governments, ethnic minority communities and businesses selling traditional medicines, such as Sapa Green Hotel, which are managed and harvested with respect to indigenous knowledge and practices.
For Dao women, who depend on the forests for their income, these partnerships have had a large impact on their livelihoods. Lo Lo May has welcomed becoming part of a cooperative set up through this initiative and working with the Sapa Green Hotel.
Before becoming members of the cooperative, we didn’t have a very stable market, with each household doing business individually. But now, we work together to protect the forest and gather medicinal herbs, which creates sustainable development.Lo Lo May
“The company can open up a more stable market for our products,” she says. “Before becoming members of the cooperative, we didn’t have a very stable market, with each household doing business individually. But now, we work together to protect the forest and gather medicinal herbs, which creates sustainable development.”
This initiative has also brought many co-benefits to Lo Lo May’s daily life and livelihood. The plants yield a higher income than other crops, and it is also much easier for her physically, as she only needs to harvest them rather than cultivate them. Additionally, she used to sell her plants for 7,000 Vietnamese dollars/kilo, but she can now sell them for up to 12,000 Vietnamese dollars/kilo with the help of her collaboration with Sapa Green Hotel.
This innovative collaboration shows the unique role that Dao women can play in natural resource management in Viet Nam. At the same time, it also demonstrates how women can be empowered to preserve their indigenous knowledge and practices, as well as improve their livelihoods, including their sources of income. Truly a win-win scenario.