Two government programmes affected forestry in Vietnam during the 1980s. First, areas of state forest land, until then under collective tenure, were allocated to individuals under 30 - 60 year leases. Second, a social forestry programme was initiated to distribute seeds and provide assistance to both private and co-operative landholders. Drawing on four case studies, this paper assessed the complexities of resource allocation among farmers associated with the reforestation of denuded hill land that was encouraged by the new policies. Overall, co-operatives were better placed than individuals to take the risks associated with tree planting, but in order to meet production targets their emphasis was on productivity rather than social equity. The paper includes a useful table summarising the impact of social and political change on forest land since 1945.