(2007) JLP 55: 73-94
To Huan Phuc
The Vietnamese government implemented the forest devolution policy in the 1990s, aiming to provide local households with individual rights to forest land and forest resources. This paper studies effects of the policy on local dynamic use of forest land and forest resources in northern Vietnam. It explores particularly the fuzzy property relations on forest land after the implementation of the policy. The findings show that, despite the emphasis on abstract rules in forest devolution policy, actual property relationships are highly fuzzy and very much contested among local people and between them and various local state agencies. On the ground, different actors maintain different claims to the same resources, and their claims are all equally legitimate. The outcomes of forest devolution policy are shaped not merely by the policy itself, but also by other factors such as villagers’ notions of rural landscapes and local power relations. Fuzziness actually creates opportunities for a local elite who have access to political power to channel most of the benefit derived from forest land and forest resources to themselves. Unless all actors agree to sit down and discuss balancing their interests and also their power over the forest, contestation among them will never be resolved.