Evan Gershkovich, Associate Communications Officer, provides an update on ForInfo activities in northern Lao PDR.
Houay Xai, Bokeo province, Lao PDR – In northern Lao PDR, RECOFTC’s ForInfo project is conducting trainings for local forestry officials. By introducing them to new technologies for better surveying practices of teak plantations, the project hopes to ultimately increase local peoples’ livelihoods.
“Our staff has really learned how to better conduct teak plantation management. We are sharing this knowledge with district authorities, and have even trained district staff on these new skills,” said Khame Phalakone, Director of Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office of Bokeo (PAFO), who has been working with RECOFTC since the introduction of the ForInfo project in 2011.
Before the project, PAFO staff would calculate teak plantation areas by the number of teak trees that were planted, essentially an estimate. That is, if 10,000 seedlings were given to a farmer in one year, for example, PAFO would record that it had planted a certain number of hectares of land that year. But 10 years later, PAFO would not be able to know if the 10 or 20 hectares all still contained teak trees – the farmer might have harvested the teak trees and planted rice instead.
Since, ForInfo project staff has supported the implementation of government-sponsored teak management certificates. The certificates give farmers temporary user-rights to their land for the duration of utilization, and ultimately, ForInfo intends the certificates to serve as loan collateral based on a plantation’s current market value and commercial volume for financial institutions so that farmers do not have to harvest their teaks before they reach commercially viable sizes.
“Before farmers had this certificate, they only had memory of their land – they didn’t know the volume of the trees they had because they didn’t do surveys,” said Mr. Phalakone. RECOFTC staff trained PAFO and the District Agriculture and Forestry Office of Bokeo (DAFO) in the use of tools like global positioning software (GPS) and open-source mapping software (QGIS), and have taught the staff how to conduct on-site plantation registration surveys, forest inventories, and issue plantation certificates.
The provincial and district officials are now better able to manage the teak plantations, the farmers who operate them, and the contractors who purchase the teak timber. In the process, the officials have also gained a much better understanding of the existing teak resources and the quality of teak available in the province.
“Improving the capacities of the local officials is essential for the success of ForInfo,” said Fabian Noeske, ForInfo’s Technical Advisor. “They are learning how to manage these methodologies on their own, making the future of the project sustainable.”
The improvement of the agriculture and forestry officials’ capacities will be essential in the coming years. Although establishment of new teak plantations has stagnated recently because of other land-use options, one of the main alternative options, rubber, has been on the decline. While rubber prices are falling rapidly, and its market deteriorating, global teak prices have been on a constant rise, and its use as timber is increasing in popularity.
“With improved teak management practices, smallholders in northern Lao PDR will be able to access the growing teak markets, and will gain increased financial diversification, as well as the security of long-term savings” said Mr. Noeske.
Through better management of teak resources, smallholders will be able to improve their financial future.
Since 2011, RECOFTC, with funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, has been working on the ForInfo project, which aims to provide local people with better access to markets for forest products and environmental services through clearer and more accurate information about their forest resources. In Houay Xai, Bokeo province, Lao PDR, one of ForInfo’s 8 sites in 4 countries of the Lower Mekong region: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Vietnam, ForInfo has been working to improve community livelihoods and create access to markets from teak cultivation based on sustainable forest management principles.
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