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

Villagers and eucalypt concession cooperation benefits community

Vientiane Times, July 27, 2015.

The promotion of industrial trees is a key priority of the government for long term socio-economic development. Thousands of hectares of land were approved by the government for concessions to Lao and foreign companies for industrial tree plantations such as rubber, eucalyptus and teak.

Vietnamese companies are establishing large areas of rubber plantations, in the north, Chinese companies are setting up rubber plantations, while in the central areas of the country, Oji Paper, a Japanese paper giant is planting eucalyptus trees. Meanwhile, Swedish-Finish Stora Enso Lao Co., Ltd (SEL) is one of the investors operating eucalyptus plantations in Saravan and Savannakhet provinces.The first plantations were established in Nong district, Savannakhet province, in 2007 and in Ta-oy district, Saravan province, in 2008. SEL has applied to the government for a total land concession of 35,000 hectares but the company currently has planted more than 2,000 hectares in the two provinces, in Xepon, Nong, Toumlan, Ta-oy and Samouy districts, which are the poorest in Laos. Every hectare of land concession has benefited villagers and local authorities due to the participation of the community with the company.

Media personnel from Lao National Television and Lao National Radio as well as Vientiane Times Paxaxon and Setthakid newspapers last week spent two days in Nong and Xepon districts to interview villagers about the benefits to Tamluang and Sadi, Paliang Yai and Kaeng Luang. Mr Bounmy who is responsible for tree plantations in the Nong district reported that currently there are 16 villages participating in the project. While Xepon district comprised four villages, explained Mr Khanthong Phanthalangsy who is responsible for tree plantations in Xepon. For each hectare approved for planting, the company pays US$350 into a village development fund to cover the leasing period, which is normally 50 years.

With the fund village authorities are able to develop local requirements such as road improvements, electricity and clean water system installation by agreement of the district governor. Villagers have also benefited from planting rice for three years between the rows of the plantation trees and in fallow years other farming such as cattle grazing, rattan and cassava, which covers 70 percent of the land. To promote rice and other crop activity, the company has supplied funds to buy the seeds, and farmers have no need to slash and clear the land for planting. People have also received income for their labour in planting, weeding and fertilising the trees. Cooperation between the villagers and company has helped to decrease shifting cultivation without destroying forestry. The company has also invested a considerable sum in UXO clearance, which has provided staff and farmers with safe working conditions. This is especially important in Saravan and Savannakhet provinces as they were heavily impacted during the Indochina war. The Head of Tamluang village, Mr Bounlang Luangmala said that residents can more easily wash clothes, shower and cook after the project installed a clean water system last year. Previously, villagers had to draw water a long way from their house via bore wells or streams for cooking and drinking, he said. Sadi village were also happy with similar benefits that had come to them, said head of the village, Mr Sa-am Xayxuanghou. However, the villages still require more assistance to improve their livelihoods especially with livestock and household handicraft businesses. Meanwhile, Paliang Yai and Kaeng Luang villages now have access to electricity for their development. According to the heads of both villages, each family has benefited and are enjoying better living conditions. The project’s foreign investment is helping contribute to developing these communities and the districts’ governors confirmed they would declare the eradication of poverty before 2020. The investment will provide the opportunity for many local people to work with the company every year and 100-150 to become permanent staff. The company also hopes to contribute about 700,000-800,000 tonnes of wood products per year and between 20,000-24,000 tonnes of rice to the economy.

 

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