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

Students debate forest conservation

Vientiane Times, April 2, 2015

Students of the National University of Laos’ Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLP) took part in a workshop and debate on forest conservation and livelihood development yesterday. The event was organised by the FLP Debate Group and supported by the Committee for Cooperation with Laos (CCL), CARE, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Land Issues Working Group (LIWG), and the European Union (EU).

The workshop and debate examining the crosscutting issues of conservation and livelihoods also retroactively marked the International Day of Forests, which took place on March 21. The eager students debated how conservation initiatives in Laos could be balanced with fair and equitable livelihood improvement activities. Addressing the workshop, Project Advisor at CCL, Mr Anthony Gueguen said “One issue we should always aim to focus on is when implementing conservation activities are assisting communities dependent on the forest.”

“We need to make sure they are a part of the conservation planning process and that they have input into crucial decisions.” With Laos’ population being predominantly rural, many people rely on nature resources and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) for their livelihoods. As part of efforts to conserve its biodiversity while supporting these communities, the government has designated 3.3 million hectares of land as protected forest and a further 3.4 million hectares as production forest. The government has also set an ambitious target of 70 percent forest cover by 2020 and it is appreciated that properly managed forest utilisation, forest protection and reforestation is a key priority.

More people are starting to acknowledge that this will require the greater involvement of local communities, who are crucial to the success of strategies for sustainable forest management and poverty alleviation. At the outset of the workshop, the pupils were given a training talk on debating skills and also listened to a series of presentations given by key speakers, including the Programme Director of the Green Community Alliance (GCA), Mr Douangprachanh Champaphonevilay and Country Director at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Mr Somphone Bouasavanh.

The workshop and debate took place at the Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLP) yesterday. Mr Somphone Bouasavanh said “Our own experience has shown that when people are given the opportunity to be a part of conservation decision-making and management, success is more likely. We have seen this through our community fisheries and sustainable rattan production project to great effect”.

The workshop further looked into the ways in which communities gain benefits from forest conservation, whether it is through income generating activities or alternative livelihood practices. Students remarked that the workshop gave a tremendous insight into how special Laos’ forests and their biodiversity are, while it also allowed them to express ideas on conservation measures that positively impact communities.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the main speakers highlighted once again the significance of the International Day of Forests, which is a global day for the celebration of forests and all types of trees. “We would like to continue raising awareness about our forests, which are home to magnificent biodiversity, and ensure that communities thrive sustainably along with them,” said project advisor Mr Anthony Gueguen

Read this article in Lao language


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