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Helping Laotians keep their forests

by Reiji Yoshida

Second in a series

Laos is a country with many natural riches, but in recent decades it has faced a rapid decline in forests, threatening the way of life of rural people heavily dependent on products from these areas.

The nongovernmental organization Japan Volunteer Center, which for 27 years has helped people in various parts of Asia, has applied for a portion of The Japan Times Readers’ Fund to help Laotians manage forests in their areas.

Many people in Laos do not understand the legal concept of forest ownership, and they need legal assistance and knowledge if they are to avoid losing their rich resources through development without their consent, the NGO said.

According to a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, nontimber products from forests, including cardamom, bamboo shoots, fish and wildlife, account for as much as 55 percent of the average household income in rural Laos.

However, many people risk losing access to their forests through development like timber or lime-mining operations launched without their consent.

Nontimber products from forests “have played a big role in terms of food security for locals. If a forest is lost, food could become scarce and people could be forced to immigrate illegally to Thailand,” said Chiho Kawai, the JVC member in charge of projects in Laos.

Time may be running out. In 1940, 70 percent of the country was covered by forest. Today, that figure is 41 percent, JVC said.

With money from The Japan Times fund, the group plans to help local people establish joint ownership of a forest in Khamouane Province through the Laotian government’s Land and Forest Allocation Program.

The JVC plan would cover 40 villages with a combined population of 10,000, Kawai said.

To apply for the program, the local people need to determine the borders of their forest, create rules for forest management and undergo training for joint forest management.

With the funds, JVC plans to organize exchange meetings between the villages and train volunteers in forest management.

Information on how to contribute to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund is appearing in the lower-left corner of Page 1 through Dec. 31.