Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Eucalyptus in Lao PDR - Bounphom Mounda

Forest Plantation Division, Department of Forestry Lao People’s Democratic Republic


The Government’s new framework for sustainable resources management includes a reforestation programme of industrial tree plantations - an important component in the forestry sector development. The natural forest has been under heavy pressure in shifting cultivation. The Government objectives include measures to control this, to reduce deforestation, and to integrate slash and burn with reforestation (agroforestry). The Government policy is to strongly protect the ecological environment and to rehabilitate degraded areas. It is estimated that there are 10 million ha of barren land from shifting cultivation practice to be rehabilitated, in part, with plantations. Eucalypts would be restricted to degraded land where natural regeneration does not exist and the soil is unsuited to higher value agricultural crops. Large areas are to be divided into a mosaic of species; natural forest belts are to be kept along rivers and streams. Private companies have approval to establish eucalypt plantations. Other rehabilitation will be agricultural activity linked; this is expected to assist in sustainable industrial plantations and to improve rural socio-economic conditions.

Key words: Eucalyptus, Lao, industrial plantations, shifting cultivation, agroforestry.


Location and topography

Lao PDR is a landlocked country with a total area of 23,680,000 ha bordered by China and Myanmar to the north, Cambodia to the south, Vietnam to the east and Thailand to the west. It is about 1,700 km from the north to the south and the width ranges between 100 and 400 km. The northern and eastern regions are predominantly mountainous with altitude varying between 2,000~3,000 m. The central and southern regions are occupied by low lying plains of the Mekong river and it’s tributaries, being the more intensively cultivated area of the country. The average elevation of the Mekong plains is approximately 150 m above sea level.

Climatic and soil conditions

The climate is tropical dominated by the southwest monsoon from May to October, which brings high rainfall, temperature and humidity with average annual rainfall of 1,750 mm in the central part, about 3,700 mm at high elevation in the south and less than 1,300 mm in the northern valleys. The rest of the year is relatively dry and warm. The generally poor soils in the lowland are acid hydromorphic and low in organic matter and nutrients but which are moderately well suited to rice production. More fertile basaltic soils high in organic matter and good physical properties are found in the Bolovens plateau in the south.


The population was estimated to be 4.2 million inhabitants in 1990 with an annual growth rate in the order of 2.9%. About 70% of the population is concentrated in the low land provinces on the Mekong basin which form only 20% of the total area.


Although Lao is well endowed with natural forests and is one of the most forested country in the region, there is an increasing pressure both from inside and outside the country to tap these resources. From the overall view, the forest land of the country has been gradually destroyed. In 1940, about 70% of the country was estimated to be covered by forest. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the forest was destroyed by the war in the northeast, while in the west heavy logging and shifting cultivation were carried out. According to an 1973 estimate, forest cover declined to 12.78 million ha or 54%. By 1989 the forest cover of Lao was estimated at 11.17 million ha or approximately 47% of the area of the country (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Total area distributed on land use and vegetation types in Lao, 1989

Land Use Group/Land Use and Vegetation Type



x 1000 ha

1. Current Forest CF



1) Dry Dipterocarp DD



2) Lower Dry Evergreen LDE



3) Upper Dry Evergreen UDE



4) Lower Mixed Deciduous LMD



5) Upper Mixed Deciduous UMD



6) Gallery Forest GE



7) Coniferous S



8) Mixed Coniferous/Broad-leaved MS



2. Potential Forest PF



9) Bamboo B



10) Unstocked T



11) Ray RA



3. Other Wooded Area OW



12) Savannah/Open Woodlands SH



13) Health, Scrub Forest SR



4. Permanent Agriculture Land PA



14) Rice Paddy RP



15) Agriculture Plantation AP



16) Other Agriculture Land OA



5. Other Non-Forest Land NF



17) Barren Lands/Rock R



18) Grassland G



19) Urban Areas U



20) Swamps SW



21) Water W






It is recognized that the forest areas of Lao are under heavy pressure mainly by people lacking alternatives for survival other than shifting cultivation. At present, there are some 270,000 families or about 1.6 million people currently practicing slash and burn cultivation. It is estimated that annually 300,000 ha of forest land are used for this farming system, of which about 80~100,000 ha are considered to be dense forests. There may be a net reduction of forest area of about 0.42% per year. The current general policies and objective of the Government refer to the need to reduce shifting cultivation significantly to control deforestation.


The forest conservation and development strategies to the year 2000 were laid out during the first National Conference on Forestry, held in Vientiane in May 1989. Then, a series of resolutions were adopted with the following strategic targets:

To achieve these goals the Government has established the following guidelines:

1) To allocate and establish permanent occupations and fixed locations for 270,000 rural families still practicing shifting cultivation. The principal lines of action suggested in the field of shifting cultivation are: integration of slash and burn cultivation with reforestation (agroforestry); improvement of productivity in slash and burn cultivation into permanent agriculture.

2) To protect the watersheds of streams and rivers considered to be the main vessels of the country by rehabilitation and protection of the forest present.

3) To establish, conserve and regenerate the 17 million ha of forest in barren land in order to reach a forest coverage of 70% within the country. This should be achieved through the protection and conservation of existing forests with special attention to watershed protection and natural resources conservation.

This achievement should also include development of natural regeneration on 5 million ha and plantations of 2 million ha. Part of the barren land should be used for agroforestry and for other forest oriented development. Based on these national strategies for land rehabilitation the Government has been cooperating with, and will be assisted by, international organizations in the establishment of rural development. At least three private companies have now been permitted to establish industrial tree plantations in Lao.


Forest in Lao can be successfully rehabilitated by the two following methods:

1) Natural regeneration of large forest areas by preventing forest fire during the dry seasons; controlling illegal cutting and shifting cultivation practices. These natural regeneration areas include all degraded forests which have a stocking volume of less than 50 m3/ha, but are not yet barren, and also some abandoned shifting cultivation areas, less intensive production areas, and especially protection and conservation forests.

2) Establishment of plantations. This activity is planned for barren (deforested) land. It is estimated that the country has approximately more than 10 million ha of this land resulting from shifting cultivation practices.

The establishment of forest plantations is planned with the participation of farmers and the private sectors through the lease of forest land for forest tree farming. It is proposed to distribute land to farmers for planting fruit trees, minor forest product species and fast growing timber species as cash crops. Under this programme each family will receive about one to five ha of land for this purpose.


Historical background

It was agreed in 1967 by the Lao and Australian Governments, Australia should advise the Royal Lao Government on a programme of reforestation in the Australian Colombo Plan Aid programme. Australian foresters would visit Lao to formulate proposals for establishing a Lao-Australian Reforestation Project. In 1970 a permanent forest nursery was established at Dongdok outside Vientiane. Experimental trials of species, provenances, fertilizer regimes and planting establishment were developed at the Pakse, Savannakhet, Luanprabang, Sayaboury and Vientiane areas. Planting consisted of 9,338 seedlings of native species and 27,494 exotic mainly Eucalyptus in 514 plots. These were the first introduction of Eucalyptus in Lao. It was found that some species and methods gave promising results.

In 1971, trial plantings in new plots continued. In summary, these were composed of 19,250 Eucalyptus of 39 species/provenances, 617 Pinus of 7 species and 4,000 seedlings of native species. An arboretum was established near the Dongdok nursery of 17 native species, 20 Eucalyptus species and 10 other exotic species; this will be valuable for teaching, public relations and scientific use.

During 1988-90 under the second phase of Lao-Swedish forest cooperation programme, the Nam Souang Silviculture Research Centre carried out trials on species and provenances of domestic and exotic species suitable for wood production, fodder, soil improvement and nature conservation in both short and long rotations. Among the exotic species Eucalyptus camaldulensis and E. urophylla from different seed lots have been tested on an area of 2 ha to find the more promising provenances for the industrial tree plantation programmes in the future.

In 1992, the Lao-ACIAR project No. 9115 carried out research on the native species Styrax tonkinensis and Australian fast growing trees - Eucalyptus and Acacia spp. The trial, established in July 1992, comprised 4 Acacia of 27 seed lots and 4 Eucalyptus, 28 seed lots. These species were introduced from Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

The overall objectives are to establish species, provenance, and progeny trials and to develop seed orchards of species with the most potential for large scale commercial plantations. This creates job opportunities for the rural subsistence population and contributes to the socio-economic development of the country.


A national survey of forest plantations in Lao was carried out during September and December 1990 by the Forest Inventory and Management Office, Department of Forestry. The result showed that the total plantation area was 6,250 ha, but of that area, only about 3,000 ha could be classified as stocked plantation. Though some 30 different tree species have been planted, nearly 50% of the plantation area is teak (Tectona grandis) while eucalypt plantation is 6% of the total area (Figure 2). Other species that belong to genera of Dalbergia, Xylia, Albizia, Dipterocarpus, Gmelina, Melia, and Acacia were planted but only on small areas.

Figure 2. Area of tree species planted by Department of Forestry and State Forest Companies before 1990

Vernacular name

Scientific name





May Sak

Tectona grandis



May Dou

Pterocarpus macrocarpus



May Tekha

Afzelia xylocarpa



May Vick

Eucalyptus sp



May Tinpet



Including trial & demo plot


Alstonia scholaris






During the last two years (1991-93), three companies, Burapha, Lao Fuel Company and Asia Tech Company Limited, have initiated plantations with Eucalyptus camaldulensis near Vientiane. The work so far is on a modest scale but the intentions are to expand the areas and to produce round wood for export (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Eucalypt plantations in Lao PDR established by private companies

Name of the companies

Planting year (ha)







1. Burapha Company





2. Lao Fuel Company




3. Asia Tech Company Limited








As eucalypt performs well with a slender clean bole, farmers commonly grow eucalypt along land boundaries and sometimes use it as living fence posts. Use of eucalypt for fuel and other purposes is not yet popular in Lao.


While no in depth studies have been carried out on the impact of eucalypts in Lao, there are numerous information sources relating to the negative and positive effects of this tree. There is a strong opinion among some environmental groups that eucalypt should not be grown because of possible negative effects on soil and nature. At the same time, however, eucalypt is a proven, well performing species with high yields and accordingly has prospects for good financial returns grown as a cash crop. Farmers, as well as companies, accordingly prefer to invest in eucalypt plantations in many countries, including neighbouring countries Thailand and Vietnam. It is widely recognized that eucalypt is a multipurpose species with uses such as fire wood, charcoal, poles, woodchips, pulp and panel products. For these reasons, eucalypt can be an important component in rural development in our country.

To reduce the negative effects related to eucalypt plantations the following recommendations should be kept in mind:


Lao PDR is heavily dependent on its natural resources for economic development. The annual quota for logging was increased to 400,000 m3 in 1991. In addition to the official logging, factors such as uncontrolled logging, shifting cultivation and forest fires have resulted in about one third of the total land area being now classified as unstocked/degraded forest land. On the other hand, reforestation has been negligible.

The Government’s First National Forestry Conference (May 1989) highlighted the importance of the forestry sector in the national economy and the need to check indiscriminate felling and burning of forest, as well as the need to adopt a new system of sustainable forest management, and replenish existing natural forests with plantation forests.

Based on the Government’s new frame work for sustainable resources management, a reforestation programme through industrial tree plantation is an important component in the forest sector development. This offers an alternative source of woody raw material, and reduces pressure on natural forests, and preserves the environment, as well as the rural development in the country.

Recently the Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed a Technical Assistance Agreement with the Government of Lao PDR for a study on establishing plantations of fast growing tree species (Eucalyptus and Acacias) for production of industrial wood for export. The study responds to the recommendation made by the Tropical Forest Action Plan (TFAP) which was endorsed by the Prime Minister’s Decree No. 66 on 7 September 1991 as Programme No. 6: Plantation Forest Development. During 1994~2000, the project will be undertaken in Vientiane prefecture and the three provinces of Vientiane, Bolikhamsay and Savannakhet. The project area will comprise 9,600 ha which has been studied and selected from 62,000 ha of potential forest plantation area in eight districts. The strategy of this project is to:

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page