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13. Lao PDR

Country data

Total land area 1996 (thousand ha)


Total forest area 1995 (thousand ha)/% of total land


Natural forests 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (million ha)/annual change (%)


Population 1997 (millions)/annual rate of change 1995-2000 (%)


Rural population 1997 (%)


GNP per person 1995 (US$)


Source of data: FAO - State of the World’s Forest 1999

General information

Lao PDR is a land-locked country bordered by the Animate mountains on the eastern side. The elevation range from 80 m in the south to 2,820 m above the sea level. About 79% of the country are mountainous. The climate is dominated by monsoons with annual rainfall ranges from 1,000 mm in the north to 3,000 mm in the south. The dry season, from October to April, is characterised by wind from the north-east. Lowland areas are tropical and the high elevation and the mountains are sub-tropical. The Mekong River is the dominant drainage system. It demarcates some of the international borders with Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia.

Approximately 65% of the GDP come from agriculture and forestry. About 250,000 families (1.5 million people) are engaged in slash and burn agriculture practices.

The forest cover has been reduced by shifting cultivation and uncontrolled fire. The pressure on forests is increasing due to the decreasing supply of forest products in neighbouring countries like Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. The level of harvesting is also increasing due to the need to generate revenue in the provinces.

Hydroelectric power is one of the commodities exported to neighbouring countries. Hydroelectric power development potential is estimated at about 10,000 MW. This commodity will be one of the priority sectors to be developed in the near future. Therefore, there is need for a clear policy for the protection of watersheds.

In 1986, the introduction of the New Economic Mechanism led the country to a more outward orientation. Progress was noted in the year 1994-1995. The growth in GDP was 8.1% for 1995. Industry led all sectors with a 9% growth, followed by agriculture with 8.3%. Timber products continued to be the top earner with US$ 96 million in exports.

1995 was a historically important year for Lao PDR. The following important events were noted:

· The 40 anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party;

· The final year of the implementation of the 3rd Five Year for Socio-Economic Development Plan of the Government.

· A more favourable foreign investment climate and increased aids has been achieved;

· The IMF released two “tranches” of US$ 8 million each under ESAF arrangement;

· The United States removed Lao from the prohibition imposed by the Foreign Assistance Act;

· Among the regional initiatives, the Government announced its intention to become a full member of the ASEAN by 1997 and officially offered Vientiane as the headquarters of the Mekong River Commission, while actively promoting the participation of Myanmar and China as full member of the Commission;

· Agreement in principle was reached to develop new roads and bridges over the Mekong River. Japan has agreed to conduct a feasibility study.

With the substantial economic and infrastructure development, pressure on the natural resource base is increasing. This includes pressure on forests and forestry and also hydropower, particularly due to increase in intensive farming, general development and mineral extraction.

The National Forest Conference was held in May 1989 The strategic directives agreed upon during the Conference were as follows:

· Preservation of forests and improvement of management to increase production;

· Rational use of forests to increase their economic value;

· Permanent settlement by the year 2000 of 60% of the 1.5 million people currently engaged in shifting cultivation.

The Government signed the international Convention on the Conservation of Biodiversity. This has implications for the policy and regulatory framework for biodiversity conservation in the country. Draft regulations for governing harvesting operations, contracting and planning, village forestry, and national biodiversity conservation areas already exist. Regulations pertaining to forest management and biodiversity conservation are currently being drafted. As of now, the Government has established and declared 20 National Biodiversity Conservation Areas, covering about 30,000 km2, or about 12.5% of the country’s total area.

In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has also crafted the “Strategic Vision for the Agricultural Sector”. The document was released on 22 December 1999. Based on the achievement and opportunities of forestry sector development, a forestry strategic vision 2020 was initiated in 1997. A draft Framework of Strategic Vision on Forest Resources Management to the Year 2020 (FSV-2000) was discussed at a Policy Dialogue Meeting held in Luang Prabang on 8 and 9 September 2000.

In 1996, the Government introduced a new policy to promote forest plantation by allocating degraded forestland to households as well as the private sector for planting trees, and waiving the land tax.

The forestry sector is one of the main earners of export revenue. The share of fo-rest products in total export value was about 40% in 1996. In principle, there is a log export ban, except of pine logs. Domestic paper demand is met solely through imports. Recently, the garment industry has generated substantial employment and income for several people and substantial revenue to the Government, which reduce pressure on forests as alternative source of income.

Land use and forest resources

At present, permanent agriculture lands are limited to flat areas and valley. Due to extensive upland agriculture, including shifting cultivation, and commercial logging, substantial forestland areas have been degraded in mountainous areas. The trend towards forest degradation will continue.

Based on the land use planning exercise, land for the different purposes will be allocated to farmers, households and communities. The villagers will determine the land allocation, and they will decide on how the land will be distributed. A map indicating the boundaries of the allocated land will be prepared. The land allocation exercise will be completed with a land tenure certificate for each participant. The certificate will be prepared by the district land management and land allocation committee.

Land allocation will be a key measure of land management. About 3,096 villages or 75,100 households had received their certificates.

In the past, Lao PDR possessed substantial large area of forests. However, some reports indicate that there has been a dramatic decline in forestland in the past 20-30 years. The causes were enormous, including population pressure, shifting cultivation, agricultural expansion, bush fire, and unsound logging for commercial purposes.

According to the current survey, the most heavily forested areas are in the south, while the least are in the north. Most of the forests are mixed deciduous forests, which cover about 35% of the land area. The dry dipterocarp forests cover about 5%, and the evergreen forests are 5%. The forest areas in the country is presented in the Table 1.

In low and medium altitude (100-500 above the sea level), many species of dipterocarps and legumes are common, including hard wood and rose wood (Dipterocarpus spp., Hopea spp., Pterocarpus spp., Dalbergia spp., Afzelia, Lagerstomia spp.). In higher up, tropical pinus are found commonly, such as Pinus merkusii, Pinus kasya, Araucaria spp., Cunninghamia spp.

A wide range of plant species and derivatives of Non-wood Forest Products exists in Lao PDR, such as bamboo, rattans, cardamons, benzoins, latex, resin and gums.

Table 1: Forest areas (ha)



Evergreen forests


Mixed deciduous forests


Deciduous forests






Source: Country Report- 18th APFC, May 2000

Since 1995, the Government has promoted reforestation and tree planting development programmes. In recent years, these programmes have been linked with the land management policy and land-forest allocation programme, investment promotion policy. Start from the launching of the programme, people’s groups, private individual, and the private sector has been involved. The progress of the plantation forestry programme is presented in the Table 2.

Table 2: Progress of plantations


Area (ha)





















Source: Country Report - 18th APFC, May 2000

Policy and planning

As the results of the First National Forest Conference held in 1989, the Government formulated the basic forest policy and guidelines. The salient features of the policy include:

· Biological resource of present forests should be protected emphasising people’s participation;

· Resource use should be balanced with conservation;

· Afforestation, production and forest development must be linked to food production, provision of alternative for shifting cultivation;

· Increased forest cover up to 70% of the total land area through the application of natural regeneration system.

The Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) was launched in 1989. The draft strategic plan was produced in February 1990. At the International Round Table meeting held in December 1990, the Government proposed a development strategy and indicated the following priorities: rationalisation of the shifting cultivation system and sustainable watershed management and protection. The Government endorsed the draft document in 1991.

Within that TFAP framework, the Government decided that:

· Sustainable forestry programmes which support hydro-electric power development should be given high priority.

· Non-wood forest products development, particularly in water catchment areas, should contribute to employment creation and income generation. This would reduce the pressure on forests from encroachment and illegal felling and contribute to biodiversity conservation.

· The harvesting of non-teak wood species should be promoted.

· The implementation of programmes for stabilisation of shifting cultivation and control of opium cultivation should contribute to sustainable harvesting in watershed management areas.

The first TFAP review meeting was held in Vientiane, on 14-15 October 1994. This meeting was attended by active donors, NGOs, forestry officials from the provinces, and key technicians of the department. The main objectives were to:

· Evaluate the implementation of the TFAP during the 1991-1994 period;

· Provide broad information on the TFAP and it’s role in the Lao Forestry Policy, strategic plan and activities to provincial officials and get their active participation to draw up guidelines, methods and measures for more effective implementation of the 1995-2000 strategic plan in forestry activities;

· Draw lessons from the co-ordination between central and local levels in the application of the decentralisation directives, especially in the management of projects located in provinces and districts;

· Prepare facts and data for a round-table meeting with donor countries/organisations to be held at the end 1995.

Since its first review in 1994, the annual donor meeting has been held every year. In these meetings, progress of the TFAP implementation was reported on and the donors’ community presented information on the status and future support to Lao forestry development. In addition, several technical working groups have been established. These groups discuss achievements, constraints, issues, policy reform, input for simplifying procedures, instructions and guidelines.

In the Fourth Donors Meeting held in April 1998, it was reported that donors support to the forestry sector development was coming from:

· Bilateral donors: SIDA, GTZ, and JICA;

· International Monetary Institutions: ADB, WB, EU, FINNIDA;

· International Institutions: Mekong River Commission, FAO, UNDP, UNCRD;

· NGOs international/bilateral: WWF, JVC, CSIRO, CUSO, CANADA, IUCN, BMZ Germany, CARE, WCS, CESVI (Italy), DANIDA, and NORAD.

It was also reported at the meeting that recently, the Governments of Denmark, France, and Norway sent missions to Lao PR and identified some co-operation projects. They informed the meeting that financial support would be provided to implement the identified projects. The Ministry of Agriculture is currently implementing more than 70 projects and that there are more projects in the pipeline at various stages of identification and formulation.

About five years ago, some donors became concerned about an apparent lack of co-ordination among projects within the Department of Forestry. To respond to this, the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA) provided funding support through UNDP for a project to assist the Division of International Co-operation in fulfilling its mandate. The objective of the project is to achieve maximum impact from projects implemented in the upland agriculture and forestry sector by institutionalising an effective monitoring and co-ordination system. The immediate objectives are: 1) effective co-ordination of current development assistance; 2) effective planning of future development assistance; 3) effective training for planning, publishing, monitoring, and evaluating development assistance. The project began in 1997.

Based on the achievements and opportunities of forestry sector development seen in 1997, the Government drafted the forestry vision for the year 2020, which is composed of seven Frameworks. The priority strategies in each Framework were outlined as the following:

· Develop viable alternatives to shifting cultivation and gradually decrease unsustainable upland farming;

· Allocate land to rural families and enterprises and encourage afforestation;

· Survey the national forest resource and set up appropriate systems for forest management;

· Implement management in the biodiversity conservation areas and protect priority watersheds;

· Develop an appropriate and competitive forest industry;

· Strengthening human resource development; and

· Strengthening forest research.

A revised draft Framework of the Strategic Vision for 2020 was discussed at a Policy Dialogue Meeting on the Forestry Sector, held in Luang Prabang, 8-9 September 2000. The meeting was organised as a consultative process for the 7th Round Table Meeting scheduled for 21-23 November 2000, which initially focus on four sectors, i.e. health, education, roads and macroeconomic management. The representative from donor agencies attended the meeting include UNDP, UNDCP, WB, ADB, AusAID, DANIDA, GTZ, FINIDA, JICA, and a number of international and national NGOs, such as IUCN.

Issue concerning year 2002 would be declared as the International Year of Mountains was discussed. Some donors, including SIDA, indicated its interest to be involved in the exercise.

It should be noted that due to population distribution, culture, geography, and general economic development, watershed protection and management are very crucial in the country. Recently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has developed a strategy that any watershed management activities or upland farming has to be linked with efforts to stabilise shifting cultivation and poverty alleviation.

Village forestry

The National Forestry Conference held in 1989 addressed the importance of participatory people’s-oriented forestry toward sustainable forest development. In addition, the essential involvement of local people in natural resource management, protection, and conservation was clearly spelled out in the Sixth Party Congress in 1996, in the Forest Law of 1996, and in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s strategy for the year 1996-2000. Village forestry is used to describe a process (but not a fixed management concept) and a range of approaches to people’s oriented forest management with different intensities in the degree of participation. This term has been used as the Lao version of community forestry. There have been some important village forestry programmes, projects, activities in Lao PDR. Altogether there are 10 projects dealing with village forestry. The preliminary results show that no single resource management system can be applied in the same way throughout the country. In the future, specific systems should be developed that are applicable to different conditions such as: forest and biological resources, culture, economy, peoples/tribes, and topography.

In line with the above, the Department of Forestry began developing a national village forestry strategy in 1997. The draft was discussed at a National Village Forestry Strategy Workshop in February 1998. It is planned that having a national strategy will help in putting the various projects into a unified framework, facilitate co-ordination, improve resource allocation, provide guidance to various on-going projects so that they conform to the national development objectives, and also help in identifying and formulating new projects.

The objective of the national village forestry strategy is to develop village forestry and promote its adoption as one of the major systems for the sustainable management of the forests. This objective can be attained in three phases of fifteen-year periods as follows:

1. The first five years phase (2000-2005 with a preparatory phase 1998-2000)

· Establish a strong policy and legal foundation;

· Strengthen the national co-ordination;

· Develop various models with their respective concepts, guidelines and procedures;

· Strengthen training capacity.

2. The second five years phase (2005-2010)

· Forestry institutions will be re-oriented toward village forestry;

· Integration of village forestry into university programmes and training systems;

· Training of staff at provincial and district levels;

· Development of models according to the situations and conditions.

3. The third five years phase (2010-2015)

· Strengthening field organisations;

· Consolidation and modification of models based on the results of field experiences;

· Adoption, adaptation, and application of village forestry in the country.

Shifting cultivation stabilisation

Concerning shifting cultivation stabilisation, all concerned institutions and officers are aware that this should be a rural integrated work. The approach should be multi-sectoral involving: agriculture, irrigation, livestock, agricultural banks/credits, transportation, education, and health. To be successful, sufficient funds, knowledge, and experiences are needed.

The Government gives high priority to this programme. It is one of the 8 top priority socio-economic development programmes of the country. The main objectives of the programme is to protect the natural resources and the environment in Lao PDR, to ensure that the resources are managed under sustainable way, to increase the living standard of the local people who are living adjacent to forest areas.

This programme has been put in place since 1986. There are substantial experimental activities adopting several methods and concepts supported by partners, including donors, such as Sweden and ADB.

Biodiversity conservation

In 1993, the Government issued the Prime Minister Decree No. 164, of which 20 forest sites as National Protected Areas. In regard to wildlife, the country has a high diversity of mammals, reptiles, birds, and probably other vertebrate and invertebrate groups. But, very few of the information have been published.

Lately, wildlife populations are continuously decreasing due to uncontrolled hunting, habitat destruction caused by shifting cultivation, agricultural expansion, and resettlement.


A draft National Code of Timber Harvesting Practice was made available in the middle of 1997. The purpose of the Code is to provide guidelines for carrying out timber harvesting consistent with the principles of sustainable development. This Code was drafted using experiences in the development of the Regional Timber Harvesting Code for the Asia Pacific Region.

Focal point
Xeme Samountry
Director General
Department of Forestry
B.P. 3802
Tel: (85621) 5009
Fax: (85621) 5004


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