Melina Kaiser, Universität Hamburg

Forestry and Environmental Justice – A Contemporary Environmental History of the Vietnamese National Parks Kon Ka Kinh and Yok Đôn

While Vietnam’s forested areas have increased during the last decades, this trend is challenged by forest fragmentation, qualitative degradation, and the loss of naturally grown primary forests. Especially the environmentally sensitive Vietnamese central highland region (Tây Nguyên) is threatened by this. The Vietnamese government has recently made efforts to counter these processes by establishing national parks, though this has not yet yielded the desired results. A main reason for this is the misidentification of the drivers of the diffusely defined deforestation and forest degradation: While policies suppress small-scale agroforestry practices and resource use of local communities, other factors such as increasing population pressures and commodity-driven deforestation remain largely unchecked. At the example of the two national parks Yok Đôn and Kon Ka Kinh, this dissertation writes a contemporary environmental history of the region and analyses it through the conceptual lens of environmental justice.

This unveils disharmonies in the parks’ complex actor networks consisting of diverse agents on the local, regional, and national levels. Key assumptions include the hypothesis that the formal focus on strict conservation measures without adequate compensation or alternative livelihood opportunities has led to a neglect of development efforts for socio-economically marginal, land-dependent communities in the parks’ adjacent buffer zones. The artificial ontological divide between nature and humans that is unsuitable for the context of the Central Highlands has further alienated marginalised local populations from their land, robbing them of their livelihoods. This dissertation therefore proposes to replace the environmentalist principles of the current national park legislation and use with a holistic approach based on environmental justice which equally considers both environmental protection and socio-economic justice and offers an inclusive strategy for resilient local livelihoods in harmony with sustainable forest development and management.