Improving Forest Allocation and Management Processes
Asia/Pacific > Southeast Asia > Lao People's Democratic Republic
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a tropical and subtropical country situated in South East Asia. It is rich in natural resources, on which much of the population depends. Unplanned commercial logging is degrading forest resources and associated biodiversity, and compromising watershed function in upland areas.
This project follows on from Xekong Sustainable Forestry Project (XEFOR) which set out to address the problems caused by unplanned commercial logging, including biodiversity loss.
With a population of about 5.6 million people, Lao PDR is the least densely populated country in Southeast Asia. Despite its low population and wealth of natural resources, the country remains one of the world’s poorest nations. In 2002, the country was ranked number 135 (out of 177) on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index, with poverty rates hovering around 40%, and nearly 75% of the population living on less than USD 2 a day.
Natural resources in Lao PDR clearly play a critical role in supporting rural livelihoods - and their depletion results in a very real poverty for rural communities. Over 80% of Lao’s population is rural and engages in agriculture for their livelihood. It is estimated that somewhere in the range of 40% of these rural households engage in some form of upland swidden (slash and burn) agriculture which as a form of forest management relies on maintaining natural forest. Moreover, a key component to many rural livelihood strategies is the collection of a wide range of non-timber forest products - including rattan, bamboo, tree resins, tubers and mushrooms - for subsistence, community use and market sale.
Maintenance of natural forests is critical for national economic development. Lao PDR’s major exports are hydropower and forest products, accounting for over half the country’s foreign exchange earnings in 2004. It is thus in the interests of both the state and upland groups to find ecologically sustainable and socially equitable solutions for forest management.
Timber harvesting removes all commercially valuable species accessible in a given area. Such logging opens large gaps in the canopy and radically alters site conditions, often leading to the invasion of a few pioneer species that come to dominate forest stands, reducing biodiversity values and the services they provide. Road building and skid trail clearance associated with logging opens access to previously remote areas, bringing increased poaching of wildlife by outside hunters and traders (mostly Vietnamese).
The ecological effects of poor logging practices are also felt further afield. Access tracks, skid trails, stream crossings, and log landings are usually unplanned, and result in soil erosion in logged areas. When these areas constitute important watershed forest, as in Xekong, poor logging increases sediment loads in streams and alters downstream water flows, thus affecting livelihood security in the lowlands.
The first phase of XEFOR has gone a long way to address these problems. Through participatory planning with local communities, village boundary demarcation, and the establishment of co-management arrangements between villagers and state forestry agencies, XEFOR has empowered communities to participate in decisions about forestry, given them legal tenure to their historical and forged agreements on the equitable use of the profits from timber sales for village development.
At the same time, technical field forestry training for district foresters in participatory methods, mapping, forest inventory, biodiversity surveying and monitoring, and forest management planning has laid the ground work for sustainable forestry. The culmination of all this work in Phase I is a management plan for an area of about 10,000 ha, which was completed in full in May 2006.
Much progress has been made, but much more remains to be done. In the second phase, XEFOR will implement the management plan developed during Phase I, and progressively expand the model to the rest of the Houay Pen Production Forest Area, ultimately covering about 90,000 ha and 25 villages in 2 districts, Lamam and Kaleum. In addition, greater attention will be given to land use within village boundaries, with a focus on producing separate forest management plans for village forests.
The project aims to improve forestry practice and community livelihoods in Xekong Province. The following 3 objectives have been identified:
1. Implement sustainable forestry in the Houay Pen Production Forest Area.
2. Enable community livelihood improvement through participatory forestry and sustainable village land use.
3. Ensure conservation of biodiversity and watershed protection in the production forests of Lamam and Kaleum districts.
Sustainable forest management using the forest management plan developed in Phase I of the project.