Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Poor management a barrier to forestry targets

Vientiane Time, January 26, 2012

The forestry sector is facing difficult challenges and is unlikely to meet its targets over the next eight years without better cooperation from various ministries. Deforestation as a result of illegal logging, changes in land use and infrastructure development is hindering efforts to increase forest cover to 65 percent of the total land area by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020.

Officials from various government bodies, including the ministries of Agriculture and Forestry, Industry and Commerce, and Natural Resources and Environment are currently gathering in Vientiane to discuss plans and measures that can be implemented this year. The government is focusing on sustainable management and protection by closely cooperating with and raising the responsibility of forestry and other relevant officials.

“In the past, forestry management policies and the use of forestry resources were not designed with sustainability in mind,” Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Dr Ty Phommasak told the meeting yesterday. The three categories of forest – protected forests, preserved forests and production forests – are still being affected by poor management, including the approval of land concessions without proper assessment, he added.

According to an assessment of forested areas made in 2010, the amount of rich natural forest areas continues to decrease at a rate of 1.4 percent a year. At present there are 9.55 million hectares of forestry and 2.23 million hectares of reforested areas in Laos, said Dr Ty. However, he expects these figures to grow in the coming years provided that the ministry receives much-needed cooperation from associated sectors.

High-value tree species have begun to disappear from forests in Laos, and the contribution of the forestry industry to the Lao economy is also decreasing.

Meanwhile, many plant and wildlife species are now difficult to find or have almost disappeared, Dr Ty said. Although Laos already has a Forestry Law to protect the environment and facilitate sustainable socio-economic development, more action is needed to bolster preservation efforts, he added. “We should strictly inspect timber movements to wood processing factories to ensure the law is being enforced and to prevent illegal logging. We also need to formulate clear measures for forestry, land and natural resource management officials to follow,” he said. “We need to get much tougher with those who violate the regulations and put an end to all land concession approvals in protected areas, no matter who applies for them.”

The ministries of Natural Resources and Environment, Industry and Commerce, Energy and Mines, Information, Culture and Tourism, Health, and Finance should jointly strengthen the regulations and allocate rules and duties to each sector to prevent further loss of protected land, he added.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth now stands at about 8 percent annually, and the agriculture and forestry sector accounts for 3.4 percent of this figure. To bolster efforts to reduce poverty, Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad asked the agriculture and forestry sector and relevant authorities to take greater responsibility for managing forestry sustainably, to ensure a long-term contribution to development.

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