By Claire Fram, ForInfo Project Associate
ForInfo’s team is back in the field in Bokeo Province, Lao PDR. During our first day in Huay Xai, we were reminded of how important it is to use sustainable and appropriate technology at a project site: we went searching for basic items like light bulbs and screws, but came up empty handed.
In Laos, where many of the goods traded in local markets are imported from China or Thailand, you cannot take anything for granted. Standard equipment for harvesting timber is tightly regulated, and the rare chainsaw that you can find is typically poorly made. After a rare chainsaw sighting, ForInfo’s technical adviser Fabian Noeske explained that our work to support three villages in improving land usage may depend on the equipment available to them and, as our senior expert Bernhard Mohns remarked, “The devil is in the details.”
In Meung District, the story of village communities at two ForInfo project sites is not unique: the land that they have been living on, in some cases for generations, has been folded into land concessions to private companies. At one project site, a Chinese run bamboo-paper company has a land concession of almost almost 600ha. The Chinese company pays the villagers according to how much bamboo they bring to the roadside. Right now, the villagers are not willing to cut the bamboo because they cannot harvest and skid (bring the bamboo from where it was cut to the roadside) enough to earn a minimum wage.
If bamboo harvesting cannot support their livelihoods, these villagers will turn to other opportunities. Meanwhile, the Chinese company, which still needs the bamboo to be harvested, is likely to bring in laborers from China who will do the work for less.
ForInfo is working in partnership with District and Provincial officials to increase local villagers’ capacity to harvest bamboo so that the harvest will actually produce sufficient income for them. In pursuit of this goal, Bernhard is working with a manufacturer in Luang Prabang to design a tool that will increase the amount of bamboo that communities can skid per day.
The tool, called a sulky, essentially puts wheels under the timber for easier transporting. Based on his knowledge of harvesting systems and years of experience in the region, Bernhard has designed a customized sulky to make it specifically appropriate for transporting bamboo, which can be up to 15 meters long, through rough local terrain to cover the often-long distances from harvesting zone to roadside. The sulky features an ergonomic handle, a simple stop brake that uses gravity, and a raised carriage for the bamboo so it can move freely above the axle.
The sulky prototype is simple enough that it cannot be easily damaged, made from materials that are durable enough to last, and basic enough that any repairs it may need are likely to be available at local markets. Getting these seemingly small details correct could make the harvest more profitable and in, the longer term, make the difference between communities losing control over their own land, or successfully benefiting from their forest resources.