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Strengthening individual and institutional capacities to adapt to climate change in Lao PDR

14/06/2016

Global climate change is recognized as a threat to the health of natural systems. In particular, wetland areas are vulnerable to changes in quantity and quality of their water supply, and it is expected that climate change will have a pronounced effect on such areas. At the same time, wetlands have qualities that can help mitigate the impacts of climate change on local livelihoods. Successfully restoring and managing wetland areas in the long term is therefore vital, both to protect livelihoods, and for nature conservation.

Two wetland sites in Laos, which are protected under the Ramsar Convention, are experiencing pressures both from their use by local communities, and from the effects of climate change. Rural communities – consisting of approximately 60,000 inhabitants – depend heavily on these sites and the surrounding areas for their livelihoods and are involved in their management. They are using the sites for crop farming, livestock production, fisheries, hunting, non-timber forest products (NTFP) collection and tourism services. The intensification of agriculture and NTFP extraction is putting these wetlands under great pressure, and climate change is further increasing their exposure and vulnerability.

At the request of the Government of Lao PDR, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has agreed to support a project through FAO, to enable wetland users to adapt to climate change, by changing their practices in order to manage the wetlands more sustainably. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an implementing partner.

Capacity priorities for improved wetland management

FAO’s Capacity Development Unit has been supporting this project, as part of its efforts to mainstream good capacity development practices into GEF programmes. Through a series of multi-stakeholder processes and climate vulnerability studies, FAO, with the leadership of the IUCN, has supported national actors to assess their capacity needs, identify opportunities to respond to these needs, and plan effective capacity development actions.

The findings of the capacity assessments revealed a few important areas for attention, which complemented the studies of climate change specialists:

  • Local awareness and knowledge: community members had limited knowledge and awareness of the impact of climate change on the wetlands, as well as on their livelihoods. As wetland restoration and management depends on local communities, it is vital that they be fully aware of the issues as well as adaptation options at hand. At the same time, local communities across the wetlands possess valuable indigenous knowledge that can serve to inform adaptation strategies. This potential needs to be harnessed as well as shared across wetland communities.
  • Networks and collective management: wetland users, such as local farmers and fishers, were working together only sporadically to manage their wetlands and adapt to changes in their environment. This lack of collaboration resulted in an unsustainable use of wetland resources, and adaptation strategies that did not address the needs of all the wetland users. For example, as the wetlands are prone to flooding, farmers built man-made barriers within the wetlands to control this flooding. These barriers affected the ability of fish to move around freely, and disrupted their breeding activities. This reduced fish populations, resulting in overfishing, and affecting the fishers’ livelihoods. Given the diversity of wetland users, it is important that adaptation approaches are co-managed in a structured way, such as through formal or informal user groups, to ensure that different needs are taken into equal consideration.
  • Linking climate change, conservation and livelihoods: climate change policies and strategies at national, district and village level did not sufficiently consider the impact of conservation initiatives on local livelihoods. In order to be effective, such policies and strategies need to complement conservation initiatives with alternative livelihood options that offer viable incentives for the people. For example, the harvesting of water snails is one source of livelihood for wetland communities, which if overharvested, affects wetland ecosystems. Sustainably managing water snail harvesting requires alternative livelihood options for the people depending on this for their livelihoods. Expanding eco-tourism is one such alternative.

Taking joint action to enhance capacities

To respond to these needs, detailed action plans with concrete activities will be jointly developed at the local level that include raising awareness among local communities, capturing and sharing indigenous knowledge, strengthening co-management systems among wetland users, and sharpening climate change policies and strategies, as well as identifying alternative livelihood options for local community members.

These will then be implemented under the 4-year, USD 5 Million project, and their impact will be consistently monitored.

The added-value of FAO’s capacity development unit is to complement the technical work of climate change specialists with good capacity development practices - such as a participatory capacity assessment - to ensure that the capacities of local communities and national institutions are effectively strengthened.

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