Harnessing carbon finance to arrest deforestation: Saving the Javan rhinoceros


The project aims to support local institutions to set up a properly functioning and equitable forest carbon facility. This carbon facility will compensate local villagers for arresting degradation and deforestation in and around Cat Tien National Park. This protection of forests will help conserve large mammals, particularly the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros.

Illustration showing a Java rhino

Even before the recent global food price rises, the choices for conserving the last population of Javan rhinoceros were looking dim. Land speculations by the richest and agricultural expansion by the poorest in Lam Dong province were resulting in encroachment onto Cat Tien National Park (CTNP). There are also plans to upgrade a track to a road within CTNP right through the Javan rhinoceros’ range. This is expected to increase encroachment, the wildlife trade and anxiety of extinction.

Priority: This project is a priority for the Vietnamese government. They are keen to both avoid talk of extinction and to conserve the 82 critically endangered species who live in CTNP. Yet there are competing priorities facing the government. The poor in Lam Dong province are growing cash crops near and inside CTNP. And the Park is not delivering promised flows of economic benefits to the country, province or the local communities. This project seeks to change this by working with all parties to achieve ‘win-wins’ that result in conservation within the Park, economic flows to Vietnam and poverty reduction for poor neighbouring communities.

Environment: At the vanguard of conservation in Vietnam is the Javan rhinoceros. CTNP hosts the last population of the sub-species Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus in the world. Yet, there are fewer than ten individuals left. CTNP is also renowned as one of Southeast Asia’s havens for the conservation of large mammals. Mammals include Asian Elephant, Wild Boar, Sambar Deer and Gaur as well as hosting all six native Vietnamese primate species. CTNP is one of the few lowland forest ecosystems in Southeast Asia remaining relatively intact and conservable. It supports several habitats, including lowland evergreen forest, lowland semi-deciduous forest, freshwater wetlands and seasonally inundated grasslands. The diverse species include 1,300 species of plants, 76 mammals, 322 birds, 73 reptiles, 35 amphibian and 99 fish. These include 40 globally threatened species and 82 species included in the Vietnam Red Data Book.

Conservation through community-based natural resource management is a named goal, and countering the wildlife trade are key priorities for Vietnam driven by international agreements. This project complements Vietnam’s responsibilities under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), which it ratified in 1994. Under the Convention in International Trade of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Vietnam receives criticism for its role as a regional hub for the wildlife trade but is praised for its efforts at implementing legislation.

Threats: Gradual encroachment is having a devastating impact on the minimum viable range of many mammal populations in the park, in particular the Javan Rhinoceros. The main cause of forest conversion is to plant ‘cash crops’ – particularly cashew nuts. Vietnam is the largest cashew exporter in the world, with exports totalling US$505 million in 2006, increasing annually by 10% and showing no sign of abating. The area around CTNP is a major cashew growing area, chiefly for the poorest in society since this hardy crop can grow on marginal sloping land with minimal water needs.

Also, the wildlife trade in this area is rampant and is of concern, particularly for the boar, gaur and deer populations. Furthermore, deforestation and degradation associated with agricultural expansion contributes to the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with climate change. The current rate of land cover change from forest to agriculture shows a significant release of carbon stored in the forest.

Developing innovative economic incentives to combat encroachment: Authorities and NGOs agree that the only way this situation can be reversed is by providing a stronger economic incentive for protection over conversion. To aid this reversal, this project will package two key elements of economic incentive – Reductions in Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) and co-management. Structures for both will be developed in a participatory way to make sure maximum community acceptance and participation. Participation will take place in an iterative manner. First, interviews and group meetings will be held with communities in the idea-generating phase, then to discuss and evaluate a set of proposed structures, and finally to engage in a thorough learning process regarding implementation.

After the UNFCCC Bali negotiations in 2007, there is renewed interest in the issue of REDD. The World Bank is piloting REDD, with an expectation that operationally it will allow countries to gain ‘carbon credits’ for reducing deforestation and degradation. Vietnam is one pilot country. The Darwin project will carry out the needed feasibility work and implement a mechanism, which allows local communities in the landscape around CTNP to be compensated for reduced deforestation.

The Government is keen to pilot REDD in CTNP/Lam Dong because of its conservation heritage, perceived threats and rhinoceros population. Once funded this project will tap into the mechanism and structures of the World Bank-supported REDD pilot and hence achieve further benefits. It is hoped that this pilot will be used nationally to stimulate other REDD projects.

This project will introduce and show best practice in participatory rural appraisal, pro-poor policy development and alternative livelihood schemes development. In essence, it will develop the local foundations to make sure of equitable distribution of future financing that will genuinely benefit the rural poor. Plus, this work will help Governments with the process of setting up a nationwide REDD scheme that helps the poorest.

Expected outcomes: In the longer term, setting up these mechanisms should provide enough funding to combat the major threats to the National Park. Therefore biodiversity within the Park should be protected. Training of government staff in REDD techniques will help this rapidly-growing initiative to be carried out more successfully in the future in Vietnam.

By examining a range of incentive mechanisms focused around paying for forest conservation, strengthening protected area management, and ensuring empowerment of local communities,the project will support the government’s implementation of CBD and CITES. Encroachment of agriculture into the habitat of critically-endangered Javan Rhinoceroses and other species will be decreased.

Workshop launch in Vietnam

Presentations from the official launch in Dalat, Vietnam, January 2010.

Other Darwin Initiative projects

Co-management of forests and wildlife in Vietnam

Sustainable tourism in the Srepok Wilderness Area, Cambodia


The Darwin Initiative

The Darwin Initiative assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives under one or more of the three major biodiversity Conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD); the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES); and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), through the funding of collaborative projects which draw on UK biodiversity expertise.


SNV (Netherlands Development Organisation)

SNV supports organizations in the South that are committed to fighting poverty and improving local governance.

Institute of Tropical Biology

ITB is a leading research, training and development institution in the field of biodiversity conservation, community development and planning in southern Vietnam.

The Department of Forestry

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