By Sharon London; October 2001
Project FireFight South East Asia, A Global Initiative of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International
Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), PO Box 6596 JKPWB, Jakarta, Indonesia
The El Niño drought year of 1997, combined with intense fires and haze from these fires in Indonesia and Malaysia, brought the issue of forest fire management to the forefront in Southeast Asia. Community-based fire management (CBFiM) is a new strategy that is attracting increasing interest in the Southeast Asian region because it ties the idea of participatory community involvement (community forestry) with forest fire management. No research has previously been conducted on CBFiM in the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (Lao PDR).
Lao PDR is a country rich in natural resources and culture, and it contains both biological and cultural diversity. The people are extremely dependent on forests, and much of the country's revenue comes from forest products. There are no confirmed data on the extent or type of forest fires in Lao PDR, although most fires are attributed to shifting cultivation. Escaped fires for hunting or clearing fields may actually cause more damage than shifting cultivation, but more research needs to be conducted before this can be confirmed. Numerous laws and policies already exist regarding forest fire management and community involvement in land management activities.
Present initiatives in Lao PDR related to forest fire management are primarily from government or donor-initiated projects and focus on fire prevention and preparedness. As forest fires are not seen as a major threat, few projects are based solely on forest fire management (except for the Cooperazione e Sviluppo [CESVI] project in Sayabouri Province, see p. 13), but rather are part of larger forest management initiatives. Forest fire management can be found in National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA) management planning, in some development project initiatives where forest fires are considered a constraint, and in land-use planning, particularly at the village level. The IUCN non-timber forest product (NTFP) project in Salavan Province is an example where local people are actively involved with forest fire management on NBCA land that is also part of their village land.
Incorporating CBFiM into forest management will require sincere commitment from all stakeholders, particularly the Lao Government, the donor community and the local people involved. Many of the key elements necessary for establishing CBFiM already exist or are in the process of being established. Strategies should be encouraged that incorporate existing government law, support indigenous knowledge and clearly explain why forest fire management is necessary. More research is needed about the implications of Lao Government policy for CBFiM, the indigenous usage of fire, fire ecology and the overall impact and extent of forest fires in Lao PDR. Capacity building at all levels and funding will also be necessary.