Since 1990 acacia-based tree plantations have fast expanded in Vietnam, now supporting a multi-billion-dollar export-oriented wood industry which is transforming from woodchip production to value-added products. Within this dynamic context, tree farmer associations have started to produce sawlogs under FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification. In this paper, we retrace the development of plantation assets, investigating farmers’ current livelihoods and land management, specifically considering various aspects of sustainability. We interviewed 180 tree farmers in three districts (lowland–upland regions) of Thừa Thiên Huế Province, including sawlog producers with and without FSC and smallholder producers of woodchips. Acacia planting in ‘barren lands’ was initiated through state programs in the 1990s (low-/midlands) and 2010s (uplands). Farmers now producing FSC sawlogs were among the first to gain forestland tenure; they now own large plantations (on good terrain), are in tune with policies and maintain resources/capacities to adopt management in line with FSC standards. Yet, most farmers also retain plots for easy-to-manage and low-risk woodchip production. Soil/vegetation conservation depends on farmers’ status/capacities and environmental awareness; FSC membership added economic-political benefits. Findings are discussed within a regional historic context. Plantations contribute to economic development, but issues persist/emerged in terms of land equity and environmental governance, risks (e.g., plant pathogens), and spaces/impetus for farm-based innovation and adaptiveness.
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