Bamboo preservation enriches lives and the environment
In a hot, insect-infested forest on the outskirts of Napor Village, 50 km west of the Lao capital Vientiane, Kong and his wife Kaew are cutting large chunks of bamboo to make into furniture.
- 2,178 hectares of forest is protected by community land titles in Sangthong district.
- Forests once covered about 70 percent of Lao PDR and declined to 42 percent by 2002.
- The forestry law was amended in 2007 to strengthen the sustainable and participatory management of forests.
They are two of over 900 people in eight villages of Sangthong District who are part of a UNDP-supported scheme turning bamboo, a cheap and plentiful wood, into high-value products that help low-income villagers to turn a profit.
The couple works through the Sangthong Bamboo Traders Association, which makes household products such as outdoor furniture and handicrafts. The stylish products sell locally, in Vientiane and are even exported overseas. In 2011, 90,000 small bamboo boxes were shipped to customers in Germany and Switzerland.
The project has brought over US$175,000 into the district since it began operating three years ago. Sangthong is one of Lao PDR’s poorest districts in a country where the GDP per capita is about US$1,200. The project is facilitating a significant rise in income for farmers.
“When we just did rice farming, we only earned five to six million kip (US$625-750) per year. Now we can earn 20 million kip (US$2,500) per year. We have money to send our children to school and to buy stuff,” said Kong.
The association trains members in making high-end bamboo products. It also provides advice on the best techniques for cutting bamboo, a process that must be timed properly to ensure regular re-growth and a sustainable crop.
The project receives support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme and is implemented by UNDP in partnership with Oxfam Novib, the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV), and the local non-profit Gender and Development Group (GDG).
The association was established in part as a response to the perceived threat to the community's bamboo resources. Since Napor Village is so close to the capital, the crop (which was growing naturally on communal land) was vulnerable to exploitation from people outside the village.
The Sangthong District administration recognised the threat and applied for community land titles in 2010. With financial and technical support from project partners, Napor and four other villages were granted land titles for their bamboo production forests in 2011.
This is the first case of community land tenures being granted in the country. With non-timber forest products contributing to about 40 percent of total rural income, such models, if replicated, could benefit villagers across Lao PDR. The land titles not only protect the bamboo forests from exploitation by outsiders but also help foster a shared sense of increased responsibility for land management among the community.
Protecting forests is crucial to Lao PDR, which loses an estimated 134,000 ha of forest every year mostly due to extensive commercial use, agricultural production, and infrastructure development. Helping communities to manage resources and secure land tenure could be a way to reduce deforestation, secure and improve rural livelihoods, and contribute to economic growth.
Because of the success of the Sangthong project, a similar GEF SGP programme is being established in the southern Lao province of Saravane, with members of the Sangthong Trade Association playing a role as trainers in the new programme.