Posted by: on

The Government of Viet Nam and UN-REDD Viet Nam Phase II Programme partner with the International Labour Organization and Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry to convene a regional experience sharing workshop on the role of ethnic minorities as key contributors to managing natural resources and addressing climate change.

Of the 370 million indigenous peoples globally, at least 70% are located in the Asia-Pacific region, of which 12.7 million reside in Viet Nam. Given their importance in contributing to the regional and national climate change and development agenda, the UN-REDD Viet Nam Phase II Programme, the Government of Viet Nam’s Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA), Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry (TUAF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) co-organized a regional experience sharing workshop on “Ethnic Minority Affairs: Harmonizing Culture, Environmental and Economic Development for Mountainous and Ethnic Minorities Areas” on 18 September 2017 in Thai Nguyen city. The workshop was attended by over 120 participants representing the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, as well as indigenous peoples’ organizations from the Asian region, who lauded CEMA’s pioneering leadership in launching one of the first government-led high-level regional exchanges among the Mekong countries on this important topic.

A key focus of the event was to establish the link between ethnic minorities[1] and the natural environment, exploring the role of ethnic minorities as equal and active contributors to address the changing landscape arising from climate change and development. In conjunction with this theme, the UN-REDD Viet Nam Phase II Programme launched a video, “Local knowledge: A key factor of success for natural forest protection” that captured this relationship in My Phuong Commune, Bac Kan Province, one of the Programme’s pilot provinces.

Viet Nam regional exchange workshop 1

Panelists (L-R): Mrs Luong Thi Truong, Mr Elawat Chandraprasert, Mrs Nguyen Thi Thu Thuy, Ms Grace Balawag

In her presentation, Ms. Grace Balawag from TEBTEBBA, Philippines, and the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Peoples’ observer to the UN-REDD Programme’s Global Executive Board, emphasized how much of the remaining natural resources, forests and other intact landscapes are sustainably managed under the customary governance and traditional knowledge systems of indigenous peoples. While opportunities to contribute to national policies for sustainable forest governance, poverty alleviation, food security enhancement, and reduced deforestation are increasing, challenges remain to secure greater recognition for the value that these traditional knowledge systems bring to the policy process.

Her presentation was complemented by Mrs. Luong Thi Truong[2] from the Center for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas, Viet Nam, who shared lessons from the Ethnic Minority Network. The network was established to broaden ethnic minority participation in REDD+ by strengthening their representation nationally and provincially. Based on her experience in Myanmar, Ms. Ei Ei Min[3] from Promotion of Indigenous and Nature Together, emphasized that ethnic nationalities must not only be conversant in their rights, but must also be able to collectively and coherently present their positions to engage effectively in policy and legal processes at all levels.  Mr. Lakpa Nuri Sherpa from Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Thailand, further highlighted how recognition of indigenous women’s roles and contributions in sustainable resource management is lagging, and how shared efforts are needed to raise awareness, document good practices, and encourage women to network or create alliances.

During a facilitated discussion, panelists debated the challenges and opportunities that ethnic minorities face in their efforts to contribute practical lessons to shape environmental and governance policies. Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thu Thuy, from Viet Nam REDD+ Office, reiterated Viet Nam’s history of social inclusion which is evident from its governance structures, such as the National Assembly and its National Council of Ethnic Minorities, to legal and regulatory frameworks such as Programme 135 related to the socio-economic development of the most vulnerable communes in ethnic minority and mountainous areas. Other panelists shared how better recognition or clarity over ethnic minorities’ rights to lands, territories, and resources will strengthen their contributions and thereby foster a greater sense of ownership for government initiatives.

While there are emerging opportunities in the region for ethnic minorities to be engaged nationally through their self-selected representatives in various policy processes, these opportunities need to be replicated in greater measure at the sub-national levels.   

Viet Nam regional exchange workshop 2

“Sustainable forest development and ethnic minority priorities are mutually reinforcing and able to achieve benefits for the country and its people.” Closing speech by Minister Do Van Chien of CEMA 

A landmark moment during the workshop was the closing speech by Minister Do Van Chien of CEMA, who said that, “Ethnic minorities are the best people to protect the forests. That is why the Government of Viet Nam will strongly prioritise ethnic minorities by providing more resources and opportunities for them to participate in the policy processes.” He further added that the Government of Vietnam will build ethnic minorities’ capacity to join these policy processes. He valued the wealth of experiences that were shared from the region which will be adapted to advise his government in their approach towards ethnic minorities. Minister Chien finally emphasized the converging and reinforcing interests between sustainable forests development and ethnic minority agendas, and the opportunities to reinforce a coalition for transformation and joint benefits.

[1] “Ethnic Minorities” is a terminology widely used in official documents in Viet Nam to refer to minorities living in the mountainous areas. However, this event adopted this terminology in conjunction with an international understanding of characteristics specific to “Indigenous Peoples”. 

[2] Ethnic Minorities’ representative in UN-REDD Viet Nam Phase II Programme Executive Board.

[3] Ethnic Nationalities’ representative in UN-REDD Myanmar Programme.