The livelihoods of local communities living in and around most protected areas in Việt Nam are often based on small-scale agricultural production activities. Deriving a sustainable income from such local produce is often difficult due to competition, unpredictable harvest yields and market price fluctuations. Balancing sustainable economic development with biodiversity conservation in such areas is a complex task, yet it is the main priority of UNESCO's Biosphere Reserves (BRs). An innovative approach to achieving this balance is the development of ‘quality economies. These economies are based on the development of local product brands that are environmentally friendly and reflect local characteristics and cultural traditions.
Cát Bà Archipelago Biosphere Reserve
Experiencing a quality economy
In Europe, many recent rural development studies and initiatives have focused on a concept referred to as the “experience economy”. In a rural development context this means the cultural or rural experience that can be added to local products. The benefits of adding “experience” to the local economy are that it combines a tourist experience with the purchase, or even the production, of a local product (or service).
The term “quality economy” differs slightly as it focuses more on the quality of the product. For example, this could mean the product’s organic features and flavor, or its social, economic or ecological benefits to its locality, whereby the perceived value of the product adds to its sale price.
Quality economies in BRs
The Man and the Biosphere Program originated 40 years ago to stress the importance of humans and nature coexisting to ensure a sustainable future. BRs act as living sites for sustainable development where best practices can be tested and demonstrated by policy makers, researchers and local people.
Adding quality to agricultural products and services within BRs is an important component of this sustainability process. Quality economies can benefit local communities and support biodiversity conservation efforts within and around protected areas by sustaining local livelihoods that can become stable and independent of illegal sources of income such as poaching and deforestation.
Activities in Việt Nam
A recent assessment by UNESCO of Việt Nam’s eight BRs found that there are many local products with great potential for 'quality' branding. Products such as natural honey from mangrove flowers, mushrooms, cashews, tea and citrus varieties to name a few, are considered to be of a high quality that is not yet reflected in the market price. These products have great potential to be value-added and sold at a higher price with effective labeling and promotion, especially to high-end consumers as Việt Nam climbs towards becoming a middle-income country.
In Cát Bà Archipelago BR, a new initiative was recently introduced where quality products and services received official certification and thereby the right to carry the official Cát Bà BR logo. The initiative was developed through cooperation between the Cát Bà Management Board, the Cát Hải District Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, as well as local businesses and the community. The aim was to build a cache of premium ‘green’ products and services that promote the BR and its aims of achieving sustainable development. At the first awards ceremony last year seven products were certified including bottled forest honey, electric vehicles for transport around the main township and a number of hotels and tourist services with minimum environmental impacts.
Possibilities for expansion
The quality of rural products and their links with the tourism industry, as the world’s largest and fastest growing industry, need to be seriously considered in efforts to make BRs living sites for sustainable development. In BRs, there are enormous opportunities for lasting beneficial partnerships between farmers, local authorities, business and tourism companies through establishing "quality economies".
Mark Hawkes, Xuân Thắng
(Source: Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine, English Edition II - 2021)