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People and Forests of Vietnam's Central Highlands

People and Forests of Vietnam's Central Highlands

People and Forests of Vietnam's Central Highlands

Vietnam has 54 minority culture groups, and we encountered three of them at A Luoi--the Pako, Ta Oi and Catu.

Yesterday we visited the A Luoi valley in Vietnam's central highlands. Vietnam has 54 minority culture groups, and we encountered three of them at A Luoi--the Pako, Ta Oi and Catu. These groups have their own languages and customs. Because the growing season in the mountains is short, these families often struggle to make ends meet. Ours was the only car in the village, and residents here had fewer motorbikes than the urban dwellers we have met thus far.

Parts of the forest in this region have not yet recovered from the effects of defoliants, such as Agent Orange, that were sprayed here during the Vietnam War. The herbicides are long gone (though dioxin lingers in a few so-called "hot spots" where Agent Orange was stored or spilled) but the defoliation they caused began a cascading effect that has lasted for decades. Where forests were completely destroyed, monsoon rains came in and washed away the topsoil, compacting the ground and degrading the soil quality. Grasses invaded, preventing native tree species from taking root.

Today, reforestation efforts have regenerated some sprayed regions, but others have yet to recover. It's not just the ecosystem that suffers, local families depend on the forest for their livelihoods. The people of A Luoi derive much of their income from the forest, mostly from harvesting forest products like rattan, bamboo and palm leaves, which are made into the famous Vietnamese conical hats.

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