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Tom Evans


The rattan cane sectors in Viet Nam, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia are thought to be developing along similar paths, but they have reached different stages. In Viet Nam wild stocks are probably almost exhausted and plantation development is under way. In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, wild stocks are substantial but declining and plantation trials are just beginning (with plantations for edible shoot production forming a dynamically growing subsector). In Cambodia the limited information available suggests that overharvesting of wild stocks is well under way but little if any work has yet been done on plantations.

Low international cane prices are a key constraint to investment in either plantations or sustainable wild harvesting. Many other deep-rooted socio-economic constraints also combine to make the prospects for large-scale sustainable harvesting poor in all three countries, but especially in Viet Nam with its high population density and degraded forests. It may be possible to foster sustainable wild harvesting at certain sites to boost rural livelihoods or to support conservation, but it is most unlikely to satisfy market demands.

Some suggestions for interventions to support the rattan cane sector are made. A region-wide taxonomic revision has just been completed, focused on the Lao People's Democratic Republic, but further work is needed, especially in herbaria in Viet Nam, in the field in Cambodia and on information exchange between countries. To set priorities for other interventions in Cambodia an initial survey of requirements and capacity is needed. For Viet Nam a similar survey is needed, but the focus is almost certain to be on aspects of plantation development through agencies already active in this field in the country.

For the Lao People's Democratic Republic, it is already possible to discuss options in some detail. The most promising field is the edible shoot sector and some existing programmes have begun to work in this area. Given the low present economic incentives for intensified cane production, the best immediate strategy in that sector may be a wait-and-see one focused on capacity-building, small-scale trials of planting and management in the wild, direct support for protected areas and continued dialogue with the government on policy incentives (especially tenure and reform of trade regulations).

1. Background

1.1 Geographical background

The three states often collectively called Indo-China differ greatly, with Viet Nam being particularly distinct from the other two, Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Annex 1 presents some key statistics.

The Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia have sparse populations, a high proportion of forest and remain amongst the least developed countries in the world. Viet Nam, by contrast, is slightly better developed, very densely populated, has little forest remaining in most regions, and includes two large cities where major industrialization is occurring. Until recently it was on the way to becoming a booming "tiger economy" but growth and foreign investment are currently at a low ebb (Anon, 2000a).

The Lao People's Democratic Republic and Viet Nam are strictly controlled one-party states whereas Cambodia is a kingdom with a fledgling multi-party democracy and a very weak regulatory environment (FAO, 1997a; Global Witness, 1998). Viet Nam and Cambodia have coastline and seaports but the Lao People's Democratic Republic is hindered in its trade options because it is land-locked. All three have tropical monsoonal climates with a prolonged dry season, especially in the lowlands.

1.2 One plant, two commodities

Globally rattan is seen principally as a cane-producing plant. Nonetheless in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and northeast Thailand rattans also supply great quantities of edible shoot tips. These are consumed locally or exported to Southeast Asian communities in France, United States and elsewhere. Although this paper concentrates on cane, the shoot production subsector is discussed where relevant.

1.3 Taxonomic overview

Good taxonomy is crucial since the very many Asian species differ in quality, abundance, growth rates and many other aspects. Without a common, shared system of species names it is almost impossible to discuss the status of the resource or the means to manage it.

Much of the existing knowledge on rattans, at least in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is held by district and provincial foresters and organized according to the local names of the species as used by villagers. Recent research has shown that, whilst these local names are often quite consistently applied within individual villages, they are virtually useless in comparing one area with another (Evans et al., in press (a)). This is because the same species can have different local names in different places, the same names are often applied to different species in different areas and pairs of species can even swap their local names from one area to the next. This problem has also been stressed by workers elsewhere (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993).

The only way to establish shared, agreed names is by collecting and comparing herbarium specimens. These can then form the basis of published opinions and remain available for re-examination by other researchers. Field guides are valuable for day-to-day use but ultimately one often needs to return to the herbarium to confirm the identification of a given plant.

The weak taxonomic basis in Indo-China has slowed the scientific development of the sector. No revision or guide has been written since the rather poor Flora of French Indo-China account (Gagnepain and Conrard, 1937). For the Lao People's Democratic Republic in particular knowledge was almost nil - only about five historical specimens existed and the 50 or so specimens collected as part of an IDRC/INBAR-funded project from 1992 to 1997 had not been critically named, due to lack of access to other herbaria (Ketphanh and Sengkhonyang, 1997).

During the period 1997-2000, the Department of the Environment of the United Kingdom Government funded a rattan research project in the Lao People's Democratic Republic through the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species. The project included a taxonomic component with a great deal of new fieldwork. About 250 herbarium specimens are now available from the Lao People's Democratic Republic and over 500 others have been examined from the surrounding areas (Viet Nam, Cambodia, non-Peninsular Thailand and southern Yunnan, China).

The results of this study will shortly be published in two formats - a formal paper detailing the taxonomic revisions and a field guide suitable for non-specialists (Evans et al. in press (a)). It is hoped that these will catalyze better sharing of information between foresters and researchers within and beyond the region. A small rattan herbarium has been established in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and the Lao Government has wisely deposited many duplicates at Kew. Together with plans for an exchange programme within the region, this should ensure that the specimens can easily be seen by active researchers around the world.

In total 50 species are now recognized from the studied region, of which 44 have been found in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Viet Nam and Cambodia. This includes eight previously undescribed species and one subspecies (Dransfield, 2000; Evans, in press; Evans et al. in press, (a) and (b)). It also includes 16 species names and 12 variety names which are now known to be synonyms. The net result has been a simplification and clarification of the system of names in the region. Some species doubtless remain to be discovered.

Of these 43 species, 37 climb and so produce cane. At least 20 have canes of moderate or high quality. Most others have very short or brittle canes but there are still some species lacking information. A few species are predominant in the trade at present, because they are both of high quality and abundant. Other high-quality species are much scarcer and so appear insignificant at present; however, some may gain greater importance if plantations become widespread.

The situation is now discussed in more detail for each country. Resource-side and processing-side issues are discussed separately, with an emphasis on the former since that is where the greatest weaknesses are, in Indo-China and throughout Asia (Belcher, 1999). New information is mainly presented for the Lao People's Democratic Republic, where the author has extensive experience; a review of the literature was made for Viet Nam and Cambodia.


2.1 Resource-side issues

2.1.1. The significance of forest products to the economy

The Lao People's Democratic Republic has a poor, predominantly rural population which relies on wild-harvested resources for an important part of their diet (especially after bad harvests) and cash income (Foppes and Ketphanh, 1997 and 2000). Timber harvesting contributed 35-40 percent of export earnings in 1997 (FAO, 1998) but this has dropped off sharply since the Asian economic crisis of 1997, when timber prices collapsed. The trade in other forest products is also substantial (about 2.5% of total export earnings in 1996) and very diverse (Foppes and Ketphanh, 1997). Recent estimates suggest that local subsistence uses of NTFPs, taking place outside the cash economy, may be equivalent to a very significant 20 percent or more of Gross Domestic Product (Foppes and Ketphanh, 2000).

2.1.2. Wild sources of cane

Cane production in the Lao People's Democratic Republic is entirely from wild stocks. Forest cover was estimated at 110 000 km2 in 1989 (FAO, 1998) but may now be closer to 95 000 km2 (Duckworth et al., 1999). Deforestation is rapid, but there are no recent published figures.

Two broad forest types probably hold the main commercial populations of rattans: evergreen or semi-evergreen lowland forests dominated by dipterocarps and evergreen hill forests dominated by Fagaceae and Lauraceae (pers. obs.). The total area of forest suitable for rattans is not clearly known, but Berkmüller et al. (1995a) estimated the total area of well-stocked, closed canopy forest as about 22 000 km2 in 1989. The total is undoubtedly much less now. Rattan stocks within these forests are known only in broad, qualitative terms, based mainly on the observations of professional foresters, since no formal inventories have been made. They are generally not included in timber inventories and no formal monitoring is undertaken.

Forest plantations are not yet abundant in the Lao People's Democratic Republic [< 400 km2 in 1997, most newly established (FAO, 1998)] and produce almost no rattan cane since wild regeneration is slight and deliberate planting does not yet occur.

2.1.3. Key commercial species

Species of known or suspected commercial importance in the Lao People's Democratic Republic are listed in Annex 2. The most important large-diameter species is Calamus poilanei and the most important small-diameter species include C. palustris, C. gracilis, C. tetradactylus and the newly described C. solitarius (Evans et al., in press (b)). The medium-large C. platyacanthus (especially important in Viet Nam) also occurs. The list is surely incomplete: knowledge is best for the central Lao People's Democratic Republic and the southern half of the north, and fieldwork has been much less extensive in other parts of the country. Several of these species have been identified by INBAR as high-priority species for further research at an international level (Williams and Rao 1994, Anon, 1997).

2.1.4. Data on abundance and depletion

There is very little resource information on which to base management decisions at a national level. The qualitative local knowledge held by forestry officers and villagers is not available in a format suitable for incorporation into a national-level review.

During the Darwin Initiative project, preliminary studies have been conducted on the growth rates of C. viminalis and C. solitarius but the results of these studies are not yet available for publication. As far as the author is aware, quantitative information is only available for C. poilanei, and even then it is very fragmentary.

C. poilanei is the country's elite large-diameter cane. It is single-stemmed and thus regenerates only from seed after cutting. This gives it a poor regeneration capacity, like C. manan from Malaysia (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993). Current evidence suggests that heavy harvesting is putting the species at high risk of commercial extinction in the Lao People's Democratic Republic in the foreseeable future. Further information supporting this conclusion is presented in Annex 3.

The status for most other commercial species is unknown. There are extensive forest areas where small-diameter canes have been seriously overharvested. During a recent socio-economic survey, traders and manufacturers widely reported that lack of raw materials was limiting their businesses and some factories had already closed for this reason (Sengdala et al., 1997), although this was partly due to administrative difficulties with permits and poor road access to rattan-bearing forests. Nonetheless, the national picture is likely to be rather better than for C. poilanei if only because other species are less valuable (and so less sought after), had higher initial densities and are mostly clustering (i.e. resprout after cutting). They thus persist in harvested areas and have the potential to regenerate more rapidly when pressure eases. One small-diameter species (C. solitarius) is solitary-stemmed and, although more abundant than C. polianei even in areas where both have been harvested, it should give some cause for concern. The high-altitude species C. acanthospathus apparently tends to produce only one or two stems; this may make it especially vulnerable to overharvesting in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Three Lao species have been listed as being at global risk of extinction (Annex 3).

2.1.5. Management regimes

Land tenure in the Lao People's Democratic Republic is being restructured. Partial control of forest land is being allocated by the state to some communities but this programme is new and still evolving. The present de facto situation is that most forest areas (in particular those areas so far from villages that they retain rattan stocks) are not under the control of any one individual or community. For most non-timber resources (fish, game, plants, grazing) in most places the customary land-use regime in remote areas is open access harvesting, with no community ownership of particular areas or resources. This has been fostered by low population pressure, huge forest areas and the cultural preference for conflict avoidance. By encouraging unregulated competition between users, open access is one factor which encourages the rapid overharvesting of rattans. Many other factors also act in the same direction: they are discussed further in section 2.3 below.

There are government regulations on rattan harvesting but it is not clear that they are intended to preserve stocks and they can sometimes accelerate declines. For example, the harvesting that led to a collapse of C. poilanei stocks around Sayphou Phaphet (Annex 4) was done to satisfy official, legal quotas given to a legitimate trader by the provincial authorities. An accurate analysis of the effect of policy and regulations on rattan stocks is not possible because those regulations are rarely publicly available (Enfield et al., 1998). Total provincial quotas are granted by the central government and then each province apportions its allowance to a number of approved manufacturers (Sengdala et al., 1997; Enfield et al., 1998). They subcontract traders who employ villagers to cut the rattan and bring it to a roadhead. The quota specifies a volume and a general source area and is valid for one year. The process of deciding quotas is very unclear to most participants in the supply and marketing chains, and is not open to independent scrutiny (Enfield et al., 1998). Although some regulations mention the need to inventory the wild stocks and assess the effect on future yields at the site this is not thought to be enforced other than by reliance on vague "common knowledge" that certain areas have many rattans (Enfield et al., 1998).

Individuals or communities cannot sell large quantities (i.e. truckloads) of rattans unless approached by a quota-holding trader. In general this is a restraining influence. However, when a quota-holder does visit, the incentive for all parties is to harvest the greatest volume of rattans possible during the brief window of opportunity. The result is the stripping of commercial rattan species from an area of forest, removing the possibility of any worthwhile harvest in the following years, let alone a sustainable one.

A significant feature of the trade is that the rural collectors are often paid very low rates for their cane, as is found throughout Asia (Belcher, 1999). This is partly because they have little access to price information, partly because one trader has a monopoly in any particular village and year and partly because rural people are in a weak position to argue with the politically and financially strong traders. Rattan collectors are often extremely poor and may ask to be paid directly in rice, rather than cash.

The export of unprocessed or "initially processed" cane is forbidden (Prime Minister's Order 14/psl, September 1990, cited and reproduced by Enfield et al., 1998). Large recent exports (see Annex 4) may avoid this regulation by being considered "semi-finished".

The above rules refer to non-conservation forests, where the Lao Government appears to be acting on an overriding need to generate income in the short term to support national development despite the damage to future productivity. The Lao People's Democratic Republic also has a large extent of conservation forests (the Lao term translates simply as "national protected forest" but the preferred English term is National Biodiversity Conservation Area or NBCA). These 18 NBCAs were established in 1993, range from 500 km2 to over 3500 km2 and cover about 10 percent of the country (25 000 km2), including large areas of all the major forest types (Berkmüller et al., 1995a). The law prohibits commercial harvesting in NBCAs. However, three factors reduce their value for preserving species and genetic diversity of rattans:

· some reserves had been heavily logged, harvested or impacted by shifting cultivation before being declared [e.g. Dong Hua Sao, Phou Khaokhoay, Nam Et/Phou Loeuy (Berkmüller et al., 1995b)] and thus are unlikely to support strong commercial rattan populations;

· large quotas are still sometimes issued for extraction within protected areas [e.g. Nakay Nam-heun NBCA in Nakay District in 1996 (Sengdala et al., 1997; C. Marsh and J. Baker, pers. comm.)];

· official support for protected areas remains somewhat ambivalent at all levels so that they face great difficulties in competing against powerful commercial interests, or even in obtaining operating funds and skilled staff.

There has been no review of how many rattan species occur within the existing protected areas network or how well they are protected. Data are probably still too poor to allow this. Nonetheless, judging from experiences with commercially valuable animal species (Duckworth et al., 1999) the system is probably not able to preserve viable populations of those species it does contain without greatly increased political and practical support.

The above discussion refers to large-scale extraction, in particular of larger diameter canes. Another large but unquantified part of the total harvest is done by many rural inhabitants who make frequent trips to collect and sell small quantities (a few kilos to tens of kilos), especially of smaller diameter canes. Onward transport is often by public transport or in trucks carrying other goods. These small shipments are often destined for handicraft factories in the larger towns, although some may eventually be exported. Regulations concerning this trade are rather unclear (Enfield et al., 1998), and they may well vary from province to province. Technically it is illegal to harvest materials from NBCAs for sale and all commercial transactions of rattan should be approved by quotas. However, there is also a contradictory presumption in law that villagers, who have customarily done so, will be allowed to continue harvesting for household subsistence purposes, which is widely interpreted to include small scale-trade (Government of Lao PDR, 1996; Enfield et al., 1998). This makes the diffuse, small-scale trade in rattans a de facto legal trade, although confiscation may occur e.g. if the trade is conducted in a too obvious way. The net impact on rattan populations and productivity is unclear, but is probably significant and deserves further study. The trade is probably also important to the livelihoods of the people involved.

The trade in edible rattan shoots from wild plants is large, unquantified and essentially unregulated. Daemonorops jenkinsianus thrives in the north in areas of shifting cultivation and appears to be the main source of shoots in the markets there. Its profusely clustering clumps survive fire, deforestation and repeated shoot removal very well. The cane of this species is not highly sought after, so trade in its shoots has little effect on overall commercial cane production. However, in some places valuable cane-producing species are targeted (e.g. C. wailong in Bokeo Province or C. poilanei in Bolikhamxay Province) and this trade is of greater concern.

2.1.6. Domestication of rattans in the Lao People's Democratic Republic

Small-scale nursery trials have been made for six or seven species with commercial potential, and a small germplasm collection established. Only one or two very small trials have begun of plantations for cane production, but one species (Calamus tenuis) has already become a major commercial success in plantations for edible shoot production (Sengdala and Evans, 1998; Evans and Sengdala, 1999). Many fields begin producing saleable shoots only a year or so after planting and can then be harvested monthly for many years thereafter, offering a return competitive with rice production and preferring sites where regular flooding would damage most other crops. In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the techniques were first developed in 1994, but there are now estimated to be over 100 ha planted by over 50 planters in at least five provinces. This new development was inspired by large-scale commercial planting in Thailand of three species (mainly C. viminalis with some C. siamensis and C. tenuis) which began in 1991 (Jarenrattawong, 1997; Evans and Sengdala, 1999).

2.1.7. Likely future trends in the supply of cane in the Lao People's Democratic Republic

It is likely that heavy extraction from wild stocks will continue, leading to the commercial extinction of many or most species. This will be accompanied by scattered, externally funded attempts at sustainable wild harvesting together with small-scale attempts at plantation establishment, with limited initial commercial success. The reasons for these predictions are outlined below.

Lao has a small domestic cane market and a much larger export market. The domestic market seems unlikely to grow much, given the small size of the national economy. In the huge export market, raw Lao cane will presumably continue to receive a low unit price until global stocks as a whole run low.

Plantations cannot presently compete in price with wild harvested cane. As discussed in section 2.1.4, legally harvestable wild stocks, especially of large-diameter species, are likely to become exhausted in the Lao People's Democratic Republic in the foreseeable future given current harvesting practices. The trend in production will probably then depend mainly on the price of cane in international trade.

If the price stays low over the next 10-20 years, as seems likely, there will probably remain little market incentive to develop plantations or to establish large-scale sustainable production from the wild. National production will thus be very low and the international trade will turn elsewhere for sources of cane. The domestic market will be unable to afford imported materials and will either switch to other materials (from large cane to bundled small canes, from rattan to bamboo or wood), obtain supplies from the small remaining wild stocks or stimulate a small, low-cost domestic plantation industry. The latter would be a valuable addition to the small national economy but of little significance at an international level.

If the world price improves, then possibilities for the sector are more positive and varied, since investment should increase.5 A price rise is most likely to happen if Indonesia replaces the recently lifted restriction on exports of raw cane. Failing that, a general tightening of restrictions on harvesting in protected areas across the region, together with declining wild stocks, may reduce supply and increase the price, although large unprotected reserves probably still remain in Indonesia and Myanmar. The same effect would result if rattan production in the Lao People's Democratic Republic was subsidized by the state or development agencies.

What is the likely balance then between production from sustainably managed natural forests and from plantations? The general trend for Asian timber and NTFPs is towards plantations (FAO, 1997c; FAO, 1997d) and the present author's assessment of the situation is that this will be the case for rattans in the Lao People's Democratic Republic since they experience fewer economic and social constraints (Belcher, 1999; section 2.3.1 below). However, it may be possible to establish sustainable wild harvests at certain sites given strong intervention at a number of levels. It is an open question whether the latter course would be beneficial enough to merit the costs.

2.2 Processing-side issues

There are probably fewer than ten major rattan factories in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, none of them employing more than a few tens of people. Details can be obtained from the Lao Forestry Information Service Section (Annex 5). They handle much of the raw cane and then export it "semi-finished" to Thailand and Viet Nam. They also produce finished goods which are mainly sold within the Lao People's Democratic Republic and are rarely of export quality. Advanced processing techniques are not yet widely used; for example, drying often relies on sun-drying or ovens and no fumigation is carried out (Sengdala et al., 1997). Some villages specialize in small-item rattan handicrafts which are mainly sold within the Lao People's Democratic Republic, including the lucrative and growing tourist market. There is also extensive domestic use in rural areas of home-made or locally traded items; this usage has little direct cash value but is important within the poor communities practising it.

In addition to the growing difficulties in finding wild stocks, a variety of other constraints have been discovered during three recent socio-economic studies.

Traders note a number of difficulties in procuring cane even in areas where accessible stocks remain. These include the erratic and non-transparent nature of the quota system, physical difficulties in pulling down cane trapped in the canopy (which is thus often wasted) and spoilage caused by the immediate lack of post-harvest treatments. Providing credit to villagers who cannot then find enough cane to repay the debt is also a problem in some areas. The poor road network hinders collection of harvested cane.

Traders also have to deal with a variable and unpredictable number of supplementary taxes as they pass the numerous district and provincial trade checkpoints. These can add significantly to the cost of the raw material.

Manufacturers report that they lack the operation capital and bargaining power to obtain a high price for their products. The low levels of technology, simplistic designs and poor finish reduce the ability of Lao firms to reach export markets.

The last survey based on interviews with manufacturers was almost five years ago and many economic changes have occurred in the Lao People's Democratic Republic since then, so the above information may be somewhat outdated.

2.3 Opportunities to support the rattan sector in The Lao People's Democratic Republic

Well-targeted investment in the Lao cane sector by outside bodies might have development and conservation benefits. Table 1 outlines some potential beneficiaries from support in each subsector. The three cane subsectors are discussed in more detail below, followed by comments on the edible rattan shoot subsector.

Table 1. Potential beneficiaries and problems caused by future development in three parts of the Lao rattan industry


Sustainable harvesting

Plantation development

Processing and marketing chain

Rural communities

In longer term

In some cases

In some cases





In longer term

National exports

In longer term

Biodiversity conservation

Indirect (need to preserve germplasm sources)

Overseas buyers (e.g. factories)

In longer term

Neutral? (transfers market share to the Lao People's Democratic Republic)

Potential problems

Reduced production in short term

Increased costs1 and technical difficulty

Significant risk of failure

Natural forest no longer needed to supply cane

Rural communities could lose a source of income

Vulnerable to changes in trade price

Increased demand speeds destruction of wild stocks.

Increased capacity useless if stocks fail.

1E.g., Evans and Viengkham (in press) highlight the impractically high costs that can be involved in statistically meaningful inventory and monitoring of wild rattan populations.

2.3.1. Sustainable harvesting

If trade prices increased this would place increased pressure on the wild resources but would also offer the possibility, currently lacking, of livelihoods well above the poverty line for sustainable harvesters. Given such a price rise, it would also require a strong political will and prompt technical intervention to establish good management. It is perhaps unlikely that this would happen before accelerated harvesting had destroyed the resource base.

No functioning model of a planned extractive reserve for timber or other forest products yet exists in the Lao People's Democratic Republic. This is despite strong enthusiasm in the conservation and aid communities for the concept, which seems to promise simultaneous biodiversity conservation and improved rural livelihoods.

Two pilot Natural Forest Management schemes exist for timber but have encountered substantial political and social difficulties, in part because of the sums of money involved. One activity of the Lao IUCN-NTFP project is a pilot to improve management of village bamboo stands in the northern Lao People's Democratic Republic for shoot production. Early successes have been mainly in the establishment of marketing groups and the acid test, when harvests need to be reduced by the community to ensure sustainability, has not yet been faced. The project has also begun to tackle unregulated malva-nut and rattan extraction at a few villages in the south, but work is at an early stage. The one shining example of community management of a wild Lao resource involves fisheries in southern Champassak (Baird and Singsouvan, 1996; Foppes and Ketphanh, 2000), but its lessons have yet to be applied to the forestry setting, which has important qualitative differences.

Agencies involved in sustainable NTFP management in the Lao People's Democratic Republic are listed in Annex 5. They have identified a great number of local and national constraints and begun addressing some of them at the technical, policy and village levels. Some of these obstacles are listed in Annex 6. They fall under three broad headings:

Social constraints

· Scarcity of cultural precedents for managing the forest
· Shortage of trained staff or operating budgets in relevant government agencies;
· Imbalances in the political power of different actors.

Policy constraints

· Open-access to resources;
· Short, erratic quotas permitting (even encouraging) overharvesting;
· Complex, obscure regulatory framework in the forestry sector;
· Government imperative to maintain its short-term income to fund development;
· Economic and biological constraints;
· Increasing market access through road expansion and macro-economic changes;
· Intense rural poverty driving rural people to overharvest for short-term survival;
· Physical difficulty of policing remote, dispersed stocks;
· Long travel times to harvest remaining stocks;
· Low bargaining power of harvesters;
· Uncertain legal status of diffuse trade in small canes, preventing investment or regulation;
· Low unit value of wild cane and suspected low annual productivity per hectare;
· Substantial costs of planning, inventory and monitoring;
· Lack of technical knowledge about the ecology of commercial species.

The prospect of overcoming all of these constraints seems quite poor in the majority of cases, but none of them is technically insurmountable if the likely benefits are considered worthwhile. Specific constraints have been overcome in specific situations in an increasing number of cases (Foppes and Ketphanh, 2000). If widespread progress in this field is to be achieved, three broad approaches are required (see Annex 6 for more detail):

1. International level. Policy changes to boost prices. Regulation of world trade (e.g. CITES).

2. National level. Enhanced political commitment to sustainable harvesting (e.g. resolution of tenure issues, improved quota system, tightened protection for NBCAs, and regulation of the diffuse trade in small-diameter canes).

3. Local level. Establishment of biologically and economically sound pilot schemes.

In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, it may be most practical to await an increase in world prices to stimulate the planting and management of rattan for cane production. Meanwhile, the ground could be prepared through capacity building (in biological and participatory social research), small-scale planting and management trials, protection of key genetic stocks in NBCAs and an ongoing dialogue with the Government on the regulation of quotas and land use.

2.3.2. Plantations

The reason rattan plantations will probably be favoured in the long run is that they escape most of the above difficulties. They nonetheless have some significant constraints which have prevented any substantial investment to date (Table 2). Low market prices and slow returns are also preventing private investment in Yunnan (Chen Sanyang, pers. comm.) and Thailand (various researchers, pers. comm.). There is some scope for further external support to enable the sector to overcome these.

Table 2. Current constraints to the development of rattan cane plantations in
the Lao People's Democratic Republic


Current trend

Possible solutions

Weak market price

Not improving

International interventions?

Wait-and-see approach

Reduce costs through improved techniques (especially fast-maturing stock)

National subsidies

Limited research capacity


Further capacity-building support

Limited published research on species found in Lao PDR

Gradually improving

Expanded research programme

Increased publication of results from neighbouring countries

Study visits to those countries

Poor establishment and growth rates for the elite C. poilanei

No progress

Focused research

Test alternative species (especially clustering ones)

Lack of a governmental extension agency

Proposals in existence

Feed into extension programmes of other organizations or fund rattan-specific programmes.

Furthermore, the regulatory and economic environment for establishing new businesses is not particularly attractive in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (e.g. slow approvals, high inflation) and this may be expected to hinder investment, especially for a venture which requires long-term confidence.

2.3.3. Processing and trade

Requirements for this subsector in the Lao People's Democratic Republic are not well understood. The first need is probably for an updated socio-economic survey to identify constraints and current priorities. Likely priorities include the following:

· Reform of the regulatory system at central, provincial and district government level (building on the findings of Enfield et al., 1998).
· Introduction of better treatment methods for cane immediately post-harvest to boost both the price villagers receive and the quality of exported cane.
· Introduction of new manufacturing technologies, if the extra costs can be supported by the weak domestic market.
· Assisting Lao companies to explore higher value export markets.

Belcher (1999) suggests that support for this sector might boost demand and so encourage intensified investment in production of raw cane; given current socio-economic conditions in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, it seems equally likely that this would just accelerate overharvesting, causing a brief boom followed by a bust.

2.3.4. Edible shoot production

The outlook for expanding edible shoot production is much better than for cane. There is a large domestic market and the Lao People's Democratic Republic only competes with Thailand in supplying the substantial export market. Furthermore, planting is spreading rapidly without needing special policy support because, unlike cane, shoot-producing plantations of C. tenuis offer a rapid and proven return on the open market. Shoot-producing species are likely to be the focus of activity in the Lao People's Democratic Republic over the next few years. The following areas (in no order of priority) would benefit from increased investment:

1. Resolution of the remaining taxonomic difficulties and searches for additional Lao species.
2. Trials of species suitable for a wider range of environments.
3. Management techniques for maximizing the yield from established C. tenuis plantations.
4. Protection of genetic resources by improved protection of known seed sources and of NBCAs in general.
5. Provenance improvement, initially for C. tenuis.
6. Extension of techniques to those rural areas where the effects on poverty alleviation and stabilization of shifting cultivation might be greatest.
7. Processing techniques for export, in particular canning (which already occurs in Thailand but not the Lao People's Democratic Republic).
8. Marketing, particularly for export to Thailand, United States and France.

A proposal to partly address aspects 1- 4 has been drawn up by the Lao Forestry Research Centre, Oxford University and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and funds are currently being sought. Increased external support from major donors is vital for general NBCA policy improvements and site management, especially given the recent cessation of several major protected area projects. Rattans are just one facet of the biodiversity under threat within the NBCA system (e.g. Thewlis et al., 1998; Duckworth et al., 1999). Aspect 6 is likely to be incorporated into existing multi-sectoral development projects as planting stock and proven techniques become available.

This subsector offers some spin-off benefits for the cane sector. The plantations themselves have little potential for conversion to cane production in the future since they are grown in open sun with no available climbing supports. However, the abundance of cheap seedlings and the widespread expertise in growing these species will make cane plantations easier to establish if economic conditions become attractive in the future.


3.1 Resource-side issues

3.1.1. The significance of forest products to the economy

Forestry represents only a small fraction of Vietnamese GDP, although a fairly large absolute value. The direct value of all timber and non-timber harvesting was estimated at US$ 132 million or 0.65 percent of GDP in 1995, and additional wood and forest products processing industries were considered poorly developed (FAO, 1997b). Furthermore, the farm and forestry sector was growing only a third as fast as the other two major sectors of the economy (non-farm/forest industries and service industries), so the present share is probably even smaller. This difference from the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia is due to the greater industrialization of Viet Nam and also to the relatively small and heavily exploited forest estate. Nonetheless, many people, particularly ethnic minority groups in upland areas, remain quite dependent on harvesting forest resources (de Beer et al., 2000).

3.1.2. Wild sources of cane

Forest cover is still moderately extensive in Viet Nam, with an official figure of 83 000 km2 of natural forest in 1995 and 10 000 km2 of plantations. Although the total cover is thought to be increasing there are substantial ongoing losses of natural forest (perhaps 1 000 km2/a, see Annex 1) and gains in the plantation sector. Most natural forests have been severely degraded by logging, shifting cultivation and the effects of the Viet Nam war. As with the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the principal sources of wild cane, at least historically, would have been in the evergreen/semi-evergreen lowland forests and the evergreen hill forests. Each part of the country supports several commercial species.

3.1.3. Key commercial species

No recent published primary taxonomic research is available from Viet Nam. Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang (1996), which is primarily a report on cultivation research, includes an appendix with an updated species list, ecological and distributional notes. A summary of these data with minor additions was given by Ngo Thi Min Duyen and Nguyen Truong Thanh (1997). Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang (1996) make no reference to herbarium specimens and, despite the first-hand descriptions they give, it seems preferable to treat the accuracy of the names used as unknown until there has been an opportunity for Vietnamese botanists to exchange voucher specimens with other herbaria and to examine the crucial types. With this caveat, Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang's names are used in this review. Some likely modern synonyms are given in brackets.

Important commercial species are listed in Annex 7. The main large canes are C. poilanei, C. rudentum and the slightly smaller C. platyacanthus. Important smaller canes include C. tetradactylus and C. tonkinensis (= C. walkeri?). There is considerable overlap with the list for the Lao People's Democratic Republic. There are doubtless other species of usable quality amongst the many rarer species known or expected to occur in Viet Nam.

3.1.4. Data on abundance and depletion

No published quantitative data were traced on the abundance or population dynamics of wild stocks. Rake et al. (1993) present official figures for the extraction of large-diameter canes in two northern provinces which total approximately 34 million linear metres (approximately 7.5 million 4.5 m canes or 14 400 t) for the seven-year period 1986-1992. This was stated to be 10 percent of the national production, which can thus be very coarsely estimated at 340 million linear metres, 75 million canes or 144 000 t during that period. Of this, 90 percent was destined for export, and three-quarters of that was exported raw. The authors believed this referred solely to one large-diameter species although the name they give, C. rudentum, seems unlikely to be correct and it is odd that there is no mention of trade in small-diameter canes.

Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang (1996) repeatedly mention the very low remaining stocks, caused partly by the heavy recent export trade. Stocks seem likely to be in a much worse state than those of the Lao People's Democratic Republic and thus be close to exhaustion. This is supported by the fact that large quantities of rattan are now bought from the Lao People's Democratic Republic by Vietnamese traders (pers. obs.; Belcher, 1999; de Beer et al., 2000) who presumably find it difficult to obtain supplies at home. A similar situation has been observed for many other tradable forest resources, including timber (Anon, 2000b), eaglewood (Broad, 1995) and a great variety of wildlife species (Duckworth et al., 1999). Access to cheap Lao rattan stocks may be an important element in the Vietnamese domestic processing industry and export trade, and is facilitated by the close political relationship between the two countries.

Several Vietnamese species are believed to be at global risk of extinction (Annex 3).

3.1.5. Management regimes

A quota system is believed to control wild cane harvesting in Viet Nam, but details were not available during the writing of this paper.

There has been a relatively long programme of land allocation to individuals in Viet Nam (FAO, 1997c), with one of its aims being to enhance productivity through the establishment of clear tenure rights. No data could be traced for this paper on the effect this is having on rattan harvesting practices.

There are approximately ten national parks and 53 nature reserves. Together with cultural sites these are called "special-use forests" and total 6 600 km2 (Nguyen Truong Thanh and Ngo Thi Min Duyen, 1997). Current regulations forbid the harvesting of NTFPs except in buffer zones, although the reality is that these rules are not often applied successfully. New reserves are being added and there is a policy target that 12 000 km2 should come under "special-use" by 2005 (FAO, 1997b), with several times that area given over to protection of watersheds and erosion prevention in coastal areas. These protected areas have the potential to conserve genetic stocks of many rattan species, but their success in doing so has not been assessed. De Beer et al. (2000) list many "conservation and development" projects, often in buffer zone areas, which involve an element of NTFP development (sometimes including rattan), but state that few have invested sufficient expertise or time to achieve substantial results.

3.1.6. Domestication of rattans in Viet Nam

Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang (1996) report that smallholder cultivation of the small-diameter clustering species C. tetradactylus in North Viet Nam began over 100 years ago and is thus one of the longest established rattan cultivation systems in the world. From beginnings in the Red River Delta (which has long been severely deforested), the practice has spread to almost every northern province and, since unification in 1975, it has also spread to much of the south. An estimated 1 500-2 000 t/a of cane is produced annually by these smallholders. C. amarus (= C. tenuis?) has also long been cultivated, albeit on a smaller scale, and recent research efforts have led to the planting of C. platyacanthus, C. rudentum, C. tonkinensis (= C. walkeri?) and C. poilanei, much of it in tree plantations. In a paragraph on plantations Nguyen Truong Thanh and Ngo Thi Min Duyen (1997) cite a figure of 1.2 billion rattan clumps and a (very large) rattan growing area of 6 250 km2 but the source and meaning of these figures are not clear since they later state that "the total area of rattans in plantations and spare plantings is about 25 000 ha (250 km2), including (?plus) 60 000 ha (600 km2) growing in natural forest."

There appears to be no mention in the literature of widespread consumption of rattan shoots or cultivation for edible shoot production.

3.1.7. Likely future trends in the supply of cane in Viet Nam

Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang (1996) estimated the demand for raw cane at 10 000 t/a for large-diameter cane (approximately 5 million 4.5 m sticks) and 15 000 t/a for small-diameter cane. This was mainly for the export trade, which Nguyen Truong Thanh and Ngo Thi Min Duyen (1997) put at US$ 4-37 million annually during 1993-1995. Recorded exports were 35 percent raw cane, 40 percent semi-finished products and 25 percent finished products, although it is not clear whether this refers to value or volume. If value, then clearly the vast majority of the volume is for export. There is also a substantial domestic market, especially in the larger towns and cities. Existing plantations satisfy only a fraction of this demand; wild stocks must provide the balance, an unknown but significant proportion of which is sourced from the Lao People's Democratic Republic and presumably also Cambodia.

Sustainable harvesting from wild populations seems even less likely to be an important large-scale source of cane in Viet Nam than in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, given the low expected yields per hectare, the much higher pressure on the remaining forests, the lower remaining stocks and the focus of existing research on plantations. Nonetheless, there do remain protected areas where sustainable harvesting of rattan and other NTFPs may be a useful tool in supporting forest conservation, and various scattered efforts exist and will continue in this direction (de Beer et al., 2000). However, it seems likely that the main thrust will be toward increasing the amount of planted rattan, and that this will become the predominant source of cane for domestic processing and export.

There is a very ambitious stated goal of 800 km2 of cane plantations by 2000 (?possibly an error for 2005), producing an enormous 150 000 t dry weight, mainly for export. This implies an impractically high average production of about 2 t/ha/a or 1 000, 4.5 m sticks/ha/a. The goal was to be achieved by a combination of allocating forest lands to people, social forestry programmes, investing more in state-owned forest enterprises, attracting non-state investment and offering favourable tax and credit opportunities (FAO, 1997b).

3.2 Processing-side issues

No substantial information was found on the rattan processing sector in Viet Nam, other than that it is quite large and more technically advanced than elsewhere in Indo-China. Exports of semi-finished and finished products exceed US$ 20 million and there is a substantial domestic market. Several companies advertise finished and semi-finished products online, which is not the case for the smaller, low-tech factories in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia.

3.3 Opportunities to support the rattan sector in Viet Nam

All aspects of the Vietnamese rattan sector would probably benefit from work to bring the taxonomic system there into harmony with other countries. Further field work would undoubtedly add species to the country and provincial lists and perhaps also undescribed taxa, but should be preceded by a review of existing collections held in Viet Nam. This requires specimen exchanges and visits by botanists to herbaria holding types, especially Kew, Paris and the southern Chinese herbaria, followed by publication in international journals.

Sustainable harvesting of wild rattan populations is apparently not a major active concern in Viet Nam. No mention is made of it by Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang (1996) or Nguyen Truong Thanh and Ngo Thi Min Duyen (1997) and the IUCN-NTFP Project in Viet Nam is not promoting any such activities (J. Foppes, pers. comm. 1999). Support for this aspect might be best integrated with multi-sectoral projects working on protected area management or upland development, as has been the case in the past. Successful pilots need to be established before any large-scale effort can be considered. Many of the constraints are likely to be similar to those in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (section 2.3.1).

Support for the plantation sector would be welcomed. Nguyen Truong Thanh and Ngo Thi Min Duyen (1997) outline some areas where further research is needed, as follows:

· provenance improvement;
· advanced technology for propagation and seed source improvement;
· research on silvicultural techniques;
· extension of techniques to increase the area of plantations;
· improved capital investment in plantations and processing.

There may be other aspects which also require support. A great number of outside organizations are involved in the NTFP sector in Viet Nam (de Beer et al., 2000) and new inputs, if appropriate, would have to be carefully coordinated with these. The relative merits of planting under tree crops in degraded natural forests or on smallholdings need to be considered depending on the goal of the support. There is a growing interest in small-scale cultivation of NTFPs (including rattan) as a tool in the development of impoverished highland communities (de Beet et al., 2000).

It would be valuable to explore the factors which have allowed the plantation sector to grow so rapidly in Viet Nam when it has been so sluggish in equally overharvested regions such as Thailand and Yunnan. This would be especially helpful to guide policy in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia, where the process has yet to begin. It is possible that much of the recent expansion in Viet Nam has been driven by state subsidies, as is the case for timber plantations; the profitability of rattan plantations has yet to be reported upon.

Consideration of support for the rattan-processing sector would have to be preceded by an up-to-date review of issues and requirements based on new surveys.


No national level information is available for the rattan sector in Cambodia. It is believed to be dominated by the extraction of raw cane for export. The country is not a member of INBAR and has not contributed participants to recent international rattan meetings (Rao and Rao, 1997; Bacilieri and Appanah, 1999).

4.1 Forest cover, commercial species and cane stocks

Satellite data put 1993 forest cover at 63 percent, but this uses a very broad definition of forest (FAO, 1997a). Only 18.2 percent of it covered evergreen, "mixed" and flooded forests, which are likely to include the main rattan habitats; the remainder involved deciduous forests, shrub land, scattered woodland and plantations. Dependency on forest resources is high among rural people, especially in the hillier northeastern parts (Bann, 1997; FAO, 1997a), and forestry is a major source of government income (FAO, 1997a).

Very little taxonomic work has been conducted in Cambodia, almost all of it during the French colonial period. There are records supported by specimens of only 11 species from Cambodia using current taxonomy (Evans et al., in press (a)), but the total is likely to be at least twice this. Commercial species probably include two large-diameter species (C. rudentum and, if it occurs, C. poilanei) and four or more small-diameter species (C. tetradactylus, C. tenuis, C. viminalis and C. palustris). One species known from Cambodia is listed as globally threatened (Annex 3), as is C. poilanei.

Feil (1998) surveyed rattans and other NTFPs in the 1 400 km2 Bokor National Park. He found low densities of large-diameter rattans (standing stocks of 0 m, 160 m and 350 m of harvestable cane/ha along three transects) and noted that even the remotest areas he visited seemed to have been depleted of cane. Since one of the three species he counted, `Phdav preas', is now known to be a Korthalsia with low cane quality (vouchered by specimen Feil et al. 03 at AAU), the stock of valuable species is probably still lower. Export records from the southern part of the park led him to estimate that 120 000 sticks 6-8 m long (and thus about 840 000 linear metres) had been legally removed from that area in 1998. This is a very high level of extraction in relation to the standing stock and seems unlikely to be maintained for long. Preliminary calculations suggested a sustainable maximum of only 12 000 sticks per annum.

Bann (1997) included rattan in a comparison of the economic benefits of customary land use and commercial logging in Ratanakiri Province, northeast Cambodia, an area where large-scale extraction was not reported. She found an average of 266 canes/ha but unfortunately her inventory results give no indication of the species other than locally used names, nor of the proportion of large-diameter or saleable canes. She estimated the sustainable annual offtake of rattans would be worth only about US$ 5/ha/a, given a ten-year harvest cycle and not taking into account harvesting costs (which were currently negligible due to low alternative employment opportunities). Overall, though, she estimated that the economic potential of NTFPs in the forest exceeded that of timber production.

Exploitation of Cambodian timber during the 1990s has been very rapid and in practice virtually unregulated, even though a total logging ban was announced in 1995 (FAO, 1997a). Known concessions at times exceeded some estimates of the total forested area of the country and extraction rates have been vastly in excess of sustainable levels (Global Witness, 1998). During 2000 far-reaching reforms have been implemented but their efficacy is not yet clear (Global Witness, 2000). Against this background the recent pressure on rattan also seems likely to have been high and unregulated. Narith (FAO, 1997a) states simply that rattans "have been harvested throughout the country". Enfield et al. (1998) found that shipments of Cambodian cane had been imported to the Lao People's Democratic Republic by factories there unable to obtain permits to harvest in-country.

There are no reports of rattan plantations in Cambodia, although the extensive areas of seasonally flooded forest perhaps offer high productive potential if suitable species can be found. Both C. tenuis and C. godefroyi deserve consideration in this habitat, and trials of C. trachycoleus may also be worthwhile.

4.2 Opportunities for assistance to the rattan sector in Cambodia

Current restructuring in the timber sector may have an influence on opportunities for sustainable rattan harvesting in the extensive natural forests. However, many of the constraints mentioned above for the Lao People's Democratic Republic will also apply to Cambodia and the low returns predicted by Bann (1997) suggest that sustainable rattan harvesting may fail to stand alone as a livelihood. Plantation development is a possibility but research capacity is likely to be quite low at present.

If external assistance is to be considered for Cambodia, the first requirement is a broad survey of needs and opportunities, in collaboration with the relevant government agencies. This should include basic taxonomic and distributional information, the status and harvesting patterns of wild stocks, existing processing capacity, inclusion of rattan in existing development and conservation activities and available research/extension capacity in relevant agencies. A list of possible activities could then be developed for consideration.

5. Conclusions

The rattan cane sectors in Viet Nam, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Cambodia are thought to be developing along similar paths, but they have reached different stages. In Viet Nam wild stocks are probably almost exhausted and plantation development is under way. In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, wild stocks are substantial but declining and plantation trials are just beginning (with plantations for edible shoot production forming a dynamically growing subsector). In Cambodia the limited information available suggests that overharvesting of wild stocks is well under way but little if any work has yet been done on plantations.

Figure 7: Rattan mats (Belcher)

Sustainable harvesting of wild rattans remains poorly researched but evidence to date suggests that it is likely to offer relatively low annual returns per hectare and to face many other deep-rooted socio-economic difficulties. Whilst it may be possible to foster it in certain sites this will be an uphill struggle under current conditions, which include a pervasive lack of government action to curb overharvesting.

Widespread enthusiasm for commercial plantation development is unlikely to come until cheap wild stocks in a country are very low or unavailable due to protective measures. Even then, plantations will probably struggle to compete with cheap wild-cut supplies in trade from elsewhere in Asia except when they receive government subsidies and/or have access to a substantial domestic market. There is a risk that increased costs through intensified production of any kind may cause the replacement of rattan by cheaper substitutes such as wood or bamboo.

Suggestions for interventions to support the rattan cane sector are made in sections 2.3, 3.2 and 4.2. A recent taxonomic revision has been completed, focused on the Lao People's Democratic Republic, but further work is needed, especially in herbaria in Viet Nam, in the field in Cambodia, on information exchange between countries and on the adequacy of existing protected areas. To set priorities for other interventions in Cambodia an initial survey of requirements and capacity is needed. For Viet Nam a similar survey is needed, but the focus is almost certain to be on aspects of plantation development through agencies already active in this field in the country.

For the Lao People's Democratic Republic, it is already possible to discuss options in some detail. The most promising field is the edible shoot sector and some existing programmes have begun to work in this area. For the cane sector, the choice between focusing on wild stocks, plantations or the processing sector depends on the development and conservation objectives of the body offering assistance. If successful, plantation and factory development is likely to benefit mainly investors and urban workers whereas smallholder cultivation, micro-processing enterprises and perhaps management of wild stocks offer more prospect of assisting the rural poor. Biodiversity conservation may be best served by increasing support for protected areas in three ways: through direct funding, through subsidized sustainable harvesting schemes and also by publicizing the opportunities (e.g. for domestication) which will be lost if extinction occurs. The Lao People's Democratic Republic has much lower agricultural potential and lower population densities than its neighbours and thus offers more scope for maintaining very extensive protected areas, given sufficient external support.

Given the low present economic incentives for intensified cane production in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the best immediate strategy may be a wait-and-see approach with a focus on capacity-building, small-scale planting trials, support for protected areas and continued dialogue with the government on policy constraints (especially tenure and reform of trade regulations).


Joost Foppes provided valuable information during the writing of this paper. He, Nick Brown and Laura Watson also commented on draft versions. I would like to thank the following people for their involvement in all stages of the Darwin Initiative Lao Rattan Research Project: Khamphone Sengdala, Oulathong V. Viengkham, Banxa Thammavong, Nick Brown, John Dransfield, Khamphay Manivong, Sounthone Ketphanh, Joost Foppes and the staff of the Forest Research Centre, the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, the IUCN-NTFP Project and the NTFP Information Centre. Approval for the work was granted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR, and funding was provided by the Department of the Environment of the United Kingdom Government through the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species. A great many herbaria contributed to the taxonomic aspect of the project, especially Kew Gardens; the Institute of Ecology, Kunming; Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens; Bangkok Herbarium, Bangkok; Forest Herbarium, Paris; and the personal collection held by Dr Issara Vongkaluang.


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Annex 1

Key statistics for the Lao People's
Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Viet Nam




Viet Nam

Population (estimate for 2000)1

5.69 m

11.21 m

80.55 m

Land area (km2)1

236 800

181,\ 035

331 690

Population density (people/km2)2




Rural population (%) (1995)1




Population growth rate (% pa) up to 1995 1




Adult literacy (%)1




Life expectancy (years)1




Human Development Index* (/and global position) 1




Natural forest cover (%)

c. 47 (1989)3

c. 40 (1996)4

38 (1993)5

25 (1995)6

Natural forest cover (km2)2

95 000

>90 000

83 000

Estimated rate of loss of natural forest (km2/year)





1Turner (2000)
2calculated from figures given here
3Kingsada (1998)
4Duckworth et al., 1999
5Varith, 1997, excluding scrub, wooded grasslands, plantations and orchards
6Nguyen Tuong Van, 1997, may include extensive open formations
7Anon, 2000c

* For comparison, Malaysia scores 0.834/60. The maximum score is 1.000 and the lowest position 174.

Annex 2

Rattan species of known or suspected commercial importance in the

Lao People's Democratic Republic



Known distribution1

Status and regeneration habit (all species clustering unless stated)

Calamus poilanei


C and N, 300-1 300 m

Very heavily harvested throughout. Declining. Solitary stemmed.

C. nambariensis


Mainly N and parts of C, 1 400-1 800

Status unknown. Records remain unconfirmed.

C. platyacanthus


Mainly N and parts of C, 750-900 m

Status unknown. Records remain unconfirmed.

C. wailong


Mainly N and parts of C, 350-600 m

Status unknown.

C. viminalis


Thrt, 100-600 m

Populations in scrub secure, but cane stocks low. Forest populations harvested in N.

C. gracilis


C, southern half of N, 300-750 m

Heavily harvested, Status unknown.

C. solitarius


C, southern half of N, 200-600 m

Heavily harvested. Probably declining. Solitary stemmed.

C. palustris var cochinchinensis


Probably thrt, rarer in far N, 100-650 m

Heavily harvested. Status unknown.

C. tetradactylus


Mainly S, 100-600 m.

Status unknown.

C. acanthospathus


N, 1800 m

Status unknown.

C. tenuis


Southern half of N, 200-300 m

Heavily used around Vientiane. Survives in scrub, but localized.

1 From Evans et al., in press (a)
N = North (North of Route 8)
C = Central
S = South (South of Xe Banghiang)
thrt = throughout (following Duckworth et al., 1999)

Annex 3

Globally threatened rattans in Indo-China



Viet Nam



D. sp "longispatha"

Taxonomy under revision (J. Dransfield, pers. comm.)



Calamus ceratophorus




C. dioicus




C. dongnaiensis




C. godefroyi

Also historically in Thailand




C. harmandii



C. poilanei

Also recorded in Thailand




C. scutellaris

Now a synonym of the Chinese C. thysanolepis, which is not listed as threatened.



C. tonkinensis

Now a synonym of the Chinese C. walkeri, which is not listed as threatened.



Source: Walter and Gillett, 1998. Distributions from Evans et al., in press.

These categorizations have not yet been fully reviewed in the light of recent new data. Information is still scanty from Viet Nam, where most of the listed species occur. The first six species listed are still known from very few sites, and are thus at risk from habitat loss, even when they are not targeted by harvesters. For example, C. harmandii is restricted to the Lao People's Democratic Republic, where it is currently known from only one site which is at risk from deforestation (Evans, 2000). C. poilanei is now known to be widespread (Evans et al., in press a); nonetheless it is under severe commercial pressure everywhere and has poor prospects of regeneration, so it should be retained on the red list for the time being.

Species not listed here may also be at risk and an updated review of these is also needed. C. solitarius is of some concern, although it cannot yet be considered threatened. The isolated Indochinese population of C. kingianus is presently only known from the Nakay Plateau, the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Evans et al., in press (a)), where a planned hydropower project may threaten its survival. This species also grows in northeast India.

Annex 4

The status of Calamus poilanei in the Lao People's Democratic Republic

C. poilanei is the elite large-diameter cane for domestic handicrafts and export in the Lao People's Democratic Republic. It is widespread and was apparently once common or even abundant. In very remote areas, stems 100-150 m long can still be found quite easily. However, most areas visited by the Darwin project team during 1997-2000 had already experienced very heavy harvesting of this species, confining it to the remotest and least accessible areas at the heart of major forest blocks in mountainous areas. Even these are likely to be harvested if quotas are issued for them. Current evidence suggests that the species is at high risk of commercial extinction in the Lao People's Democratic Republic in the foreseeable future.

Sengdala et al. (1997) presented data on quotas listed by the Department of Forestry annual reports (Table 3). Almost all of the large-diameter cane listed is thought to be C. poilanei. In 1996/97, one quota holder alone sought to cut 400 000 sticks of large-diameter cane.


Number of concessionaires

Total allowable cut
(4.5 m sticks)



261 000



1 129 000



649 000

National export figures compiled from official provincial statistics and supplied by the Lao IUCN-NTFP project are shown in Table 4. The table shows moderately large quantities, with a substantial increase in 1998. Internal inconsistencies in the data sources, major fluctuations from year to year in individual provinces and experiences from the timber sector suggest that these recorded figures represent only a part of the total export (J. Foppes, pers. comm.). Note, for example, the striking difference between the low reported exports for 1995 and the very high permitted cut for both 1994/95 and 1995/96.

Table 4. Recorded exports of large-diameter rattan cane from Lao PDR 1995-1998






Recorded exports (4.5 m sticks)

45 500

91 995

93 355

367 196

Calculated total length (m)

205 000

414 000

420 000

1 652 000

Recorded value (US$)

17 961

37 095

36 564

117 503

Data on growth rates come from a single minor study (Darwin Initiative Lao Rattan Research Team, unpublished data). The growth of a small non-random sample of C. poilanei stems in natural forest at 550 m in central the Lao People's Democratic Republic was followed over a period of 13 months.

There was a wide range of growth increments from 15 cm to 300 cm with most over 100 cm and several over 200 cm. Growth was apparently least in deep shade. These rates are broadly comparable with rates for C. manan from Malaysia (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993) and suggest the possibility that economically viable growth rates might be obtained in some situations.

The only known quantitative survey of density was conducted along a short transect in evergreen forest at 600 m on the Sayphou Phaphet massif in central the Lao People's Democratic Republic in 1999. The survey covered randomly sampled plots within a relatively rattan-rich 12 ha block deep in a very large unlogged forest block and found a density of 20.0 aerial stems/ha (95% confidence limits 8.7-31.3 stems/ha) (Evans and Viengkham, in press), or approximately 550 m of harvestable cane/ha (Darwin Initiative Lao Rattan Research Team, unpublished data). C. poilanei had been partially harvested in this general area during 1992-1996 and the original density was probably somewhat higher. Wider exploration showed that, in even more remote areas of the forest, similar densities could be found, although the distribution was somewhat patchy. In less remote, more accessible forest around the feet of the massif (but still 5-10 km from the nearest village or road) the C. poilanei population, reportedly once strong, had collapsed since harvesting began in 1992/93. Only very occasional adult stems could be found despite prolonged searching, and seedlings were also scarce. This provides striking evidence of the speed with which commercial extinction of a rattan can occur over a large tract of essentially pristine forest. It parallels the well-documented effect hunting has had in vastly reducing the populations of most quarry species of bird and mammal in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, despite the great extent of suitable habitat that remains (Thewlis et al., 1998; Duckworth et al., 1999).

Three factors severely hinder the regeneration of C. poilanei at this site. Firstly it is a solitary-stemmed species so that stumps do not resprout and regeneration has to occur from seed. Secondly, the original harvest was so thorough over large areas that no adults remained as seed sources. Since rattans show little seed dormancy, there will be few new recruits to the seedling bank until, eventually, a new generation of adults has developed from the existing seedlings. Thirdly, the practice of harvesting edible shoot tips for trade is expanding (at least at this site). This is leading to the deaths of many of the remaining seed plants and also (since juveniles are harvestable long before they reach reproductive age) it is preventing many, perhaps all of the existing seedlings from reaching adulthood. The combined impact of these factors is likely to prevent a second harvest of C. poilanei from the same forests in the foreseeable future and might drive the species to extinction. A similar situation is suspected to prevail over wide areas of the country.

Table 5 summarizes observations on the status of C. poilanei province by province during 1992-2000.

Table 5. The status of Calamus poilanei in each province of the Lao
People's Democratic Republic during 1992-2000

(arranged NW to SE)

Observations on status of C. poilanei populations

Luang Namtha

Believed to be naturally scarce or absent.


Believed to be naturally scarce or absent.


One probable record, population status unknown. Little pristine forest remains, populations unlikely to be strong.


Believed to be naturally scarce or absent.

Luang Phabang

Status unknown. Little pristine forest remains, populations unlikely to be strong.


Believed to be naturally scarce or absent.


Believed to be present. Heavy harvesting of a large-diameter species with appropriate local name reported.



Xaysomboun Special Zone

Present, possibly still locally abundant. Difficult access and security problems may have hindered overharvesting.

Vientiane Province

Present, believed scarce as a result of past harvesting. Populations likely to remain in remote areas, but very low in much of Phou Khaokhoay NBCA.

Vientiane Municipality

Very scarce or absent, presumably as a result of deforestation and harvesting


Locally common in some remote forest areas (e.g. Nam Kading NBCA*) but removed by harvesting from large tracts of forest in at least three districts. Very severely reduced in Nakai-Nam Theun NBCA due to local and trans-boundary harvesting.


Reported by District forestry officials to be almost gone from Nakay District due to heavy recent harvesting. Heavy harvesting of large-diameter canes in Hinboun District reported during 1999. Status in other districts unknown.


Probably present, status unknown.


Probably present, status unknown.


Probably present, status unknown.


Probably present, status unknown but probably very poor. Large-diameter canes reportedly almost all harvested already from this province (Enfield et al.,1998; Foppes and Ketphanh, 2000; J. Foppes, pers. comm.).


Probably present, reports suggest large-diameter canes (probably this species) still common in remote parts of Dong Amphan NBCA but wholly harvested out from more accessible areas.

* NBCA = National Biodiversity Conservation Area, the highest level of protected area

Annex 5

Selected organizations involved in improving rattan management in Lao PDR

Darwin Initiative Lao Rattan Research Project
Dr Nick Brown, Project Leader
Oxford Forestry Institute, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3RB, UK
tel: +44-1865-275077
fax: +44-1865-275074

Mr Khamphone Sengdala, Lao Project Leader
PO Box 8916, Vientiane, Lao PDR (c/o FRC, below)
tel: +856-21-732298
fax: +856-21-413174
email: c/o NIC (below)

Forestry Research Centre (FRC)
Mr Khamphay Manivong, Director
PO Box 7174, Vientiane, Lao PDR
tel: +856-21-732298
fax: +856-21-413174

FISS (Forestry Information Service Section) formerly the NTFP Information Centre (NIC)

Mr Bandith Ramangkoun, Director
PO Box 6957, Vientiane, Lao PDR
tel/fax: +856-21-732298
e-mail:  or

IUCN-Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) Project in Lao PDR

Mr. Sounthone Ketphanh,
National Project Coordinator
P.O.Box 4340, Vientiane, Lao PDR
tel/fax: +856-21-732298
mobile: +856-20-511653

Mr. Joost Foppes, Project Advisor
P.O.Box 4340, Vientiane, Lao PDR
tel/fax: +856-21-732298 (Dong Dok)
tel: +856-21-216401 (IUCN Lao Country Office)
fax: +856-21-216127 (IUCN Lao Country Office)
mobile: +856-20-514661
home: +856-21-412488

IUCN Country Office
Mr Scott Perkin, Director
P.O.Box 4340, Vientiane, Lao PDR
tel: +856-21-216401
tel/fax: +856-21-216127
email:  or  

Annex 6

Constraints to the sustainable management of wild rattans in the Lao PDR and some possible solutions


Current trend

Possible solutions

Social Constraints


Scarcity of cultural precedents for managing the forest


Increasing competition for resources and existence of successful pilot schemes may change public attitudes. Research to find and capitalize upon existing indigenous concepts which favour conservation has also been recommended (Enfield et al., 1998).

Imbalances in the political power of different actors


Structures in Lao PDR do not favour free and equal participation by all stakeholders. See Dove (1994) and Fisher et al. (1997) for further discussion.

Lack of trained staff or operating budgets in relevant government agencies.

Improving very gradually

Support for capacity building.

Policy constraints


Open-access to resources

Gradually improving?

Ongoing land and forest allocation programme may establish new patterns of tenure. Input at policy level may build into the system incentives for sustainable harvesting.

Short, erratic quotas encouraging and permitting overharvesting

Not improving

Lengthen quotas, attach meaningful sustainability conditions. Shift emphasis to control of quotas by stakeholders with a long-term interest in the resource (e.g. villagers, concessionaires), starting with the less contested (small-diameter) species.

Uncertain legal status of diffuse trade in small canes, preventing investment or regulation


Establish a clearer legal framework that enables monitoring, regulation and taxation without wholly stopping the trade.

Complex and obscure regulatory framework in forestry sector

Not thought to be improving

More transparent and publicly available system of regulation. Better paid and trained regulatory staff.

Government imperative to maintain income in the short-term to allow national development


Macro-economic improvements outside the scope of this paper.

Economic and biological constraints


Increased market access through road expansion and changes in economic policy


No solution apparent. Tightened regulation is an option.


Current trend

Possible solution

Intense rural poverty which drives villagers to overuse even those resources which they do fully control

Remaining a severe problem

Requires temporary alleviation until income stream from managed resource begins. Micro-credit schemes, rice banks ,etc., sometimes successful in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Foppes and Ketphanh, 2000).

Physical difficulty of policing stocks dispersed across extensive, remote forests

Worsening as accessible stocks run out

Shifting harvest to easily policed forest near villages would be possible but would require a long wait and/or expensive silvicultural interventions for rattan stocks to re-establish.

Long travel times for harvesting, due to remoteness of remaining stocks

Worsening. Likely to become a worse problem if rural wages increase.

See above.

Low bargaining power of harvesters


Harvesters' associations, market information exchange networks. Modified quota system to remove monopolies.

Low unit value of wild cane which offers little profit margin to invest in management measures

Remaining a severe problem.

Dependent on changes in the international market. Within the Lao People's Democratic Republic, stricter enforcement of legal protection within NBCAs might increase the price of stocks in production forest.

Certification is a possible future option, especially as part of the new 600 000 ha HIPA timber concession in the north, which is aiming for certification.

Annual productivity per hectare unknown but probably quite small in several key cases (Bogh, 1997; Bann, 1997; author's unpublished data).


Upper ceiling on productivity hard to remove without expensive techniques such as canopy opening or enrichment planting (which are probably better done in a plantation setting).

Substantial costs of designing a harvest regime, inventorying and monitoring stocks (Evans and Viengkham, in press).

Perhaps gradually improving.

Development of new, more efficient formal techniques, preference for low-information approaches reliant on local peoples' observations concerning the state of target populations, subsidized provision of technical forestry support.

Lack of technical knowledge about the ecology of commercial species

Gradually improving.

Continued research, focused on high-priority species. Technical information exchange networks to disseminate the results.


Annex 7

Rattan species of commercial importance in Viet Nam



Known distribution


Calamus poilanei


Widespread, especially the south, 200-1100 m


C. rudentum


Almost every province, commoner in south.


C. palustris

Large (small in Lao PDR)



C. platyacanthus


Every northern province, 100-1200 m (esp. 400-900 m)


C. viminalis




C. tetradactylus


Throughout, especially northern provinces, 100-800 m, especially 100-500 m


C. tonkinensis (=C. walkeri?)


Widespread, in coastal provinces


C. amarus (= C. tenuis?)


North (provinces north of Hué)


C. dioicus


Centre (Hué south to Dong Nai), 100-800 m


Source: Vu Van Dung and Le Huy Guang(1996), with C. palustris added by Ngo Thi Min Duyen and Nguyen Truong Thanh (1997). Some listed species probably now only found in small quantities.

5 Although there is a risk that increased prices will simply cause rattan to be replaced by affordable substitutes like wood, bamboo or plastic. This trend has already been observed in the Philippines, Indonesia and China (Belcher, 1999).

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