Vientiane Times, 14 May 2014
Increasing forest cover to 65 percent of the country’s entire area by 2015 and further to 70 percent by 2020 will prove challenging even though Laos plants 30,000 hectares of trees each year. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Vilayvanh Phomkhe, made the observation recently, noting that satellite data puts current forest cover at just over 50 percent of Laos’s total area, which the minister said was still low.
Mr Vilayvanh spoke to local media recently during his attendance at a meeting between the government cabinet, Vientiane Mayor and provincial governors in Vientiane. Although Laos plants 30,000 hectares of trees each year, up to 30-40 percent of the seedlings die due to poor maintenance, the minister admitted. “Planted seedlings in some areas have not been properly maintained,” he said.
In an effort to increase forest cover, the ministry is focused on two main strategies – one is to constrain slash and burn cultivation practices of local people and the second is to prevent forest fires from occurring. Mr Vilayvanh stated that slash and burn cultivation and forest fires have caused huge damage to natural forests over the past years.
Officials also warned that continuous illegal logging in Laos is deteriorating the country’s forestry resources, including watersheds and protected areas. However Mr Vilayvanh said damaged forest can be restored within six or seven years if there is no repeated slash and burn cultivation or other forms of damage.
In addition, the ministry has paid attention to planting trees in the target area of 30,000 hectares each year, normally beginning on June 1, which is the national tree planting day, and continuing throughout the rainy season. To achieve this, the ministry announced it would collect 15,800 kilogrammes of seeds to germinate into seedlings for this year’s tree planting.
It was reported previously that Laos used to have one of the highest percentages of forest coverage in the world. In 1940, 70 percent of Laos was covered with forest, an area of roughly 17 million hectares. In 1992, forest coverage had fallen to about 47 percent. By 2002 it had fallen again to 42 percent, and then to 40 percent by 2010.
The Lao government has attached great importance to reforestation given that dense forest is crucial for Laos to achieve its ambition of generating hydroelectricity for export to other countries in the region.