Summary of National Report on Protected Areas and Development
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Despite being one of the world’s “least developed countries”, Lao PDR
has established an extensive set of protected areas (PAs) designed as
an integrated system on sound scientific principles. Lao PDR’s National
Protected Area (NPA) system is unrivalled in the region and indeed by
few countries in the world. Only wetlands and lowland forest might be
considered underrepresented. In addition, there is a growing number of
provincial and district PAs, a rich and diverse complement from frog ponds
and fish pools to important watersheds. Combined, the protected area system
covers more than 21 percent of the land area, one of the largest “land
uses” in the country.
Yet, the contribution of both in situ and “exported” benefits of Lao
PDR’s PAs to national development is not well understood or recognised.
Consequently, inadequate technical and financial management resources
go to preventing an on-going and probably increasing deterioration of
important PA values.
This situation is unlikely to change until the government makes a serious
attempt to recognise PA benefits in economic terms and invest in improved
PA management. This report emphasises the necessity of adopting “the total
economic value” approach to identifying the economic benefits associated
with PAs, instead of focusing only on some of the direct commercial values.
It presents a more complete picture of the economic importance of PAs,
and demonstrates the high and wide-ranging economic costs associated with
their degradation, which extend far beyond the loss of direct use values.
Currently, PA benefits are treated as “free or under-priced” goods and
services. Once appropriately valued, the economic justification can be
made for increased revenue to flow back to PAs based on application of
the “user pays” principle. Those sectors which benefit should pay for
maintaining the PA goods and services they consume.
Of special importance in Lao PDR is the significance of non-timber forest
products (NTFPs) for rural communities, especially in periods of stress
(droughts, post floods etc.) and the role PAs play in sustaining NTFP
supplies. Yet, all the indications are that NTFP stocks are declining,
being over-exploited for commercial gain. More effective PA management
is needed to halt this trend.
While most of the recommendations of this report are presented as sectoral
responses, three cross cutting strategies are promoted:
- A better use of economic analysis and instruments in integrating
PAs in local and national development planning;
- Greater collaboration with communities and sectors in rural development
planning and management of protected areas; and,
- A strengthened and more focused protected area policy and institutional
Sectoral strategy recommendations
Sustainable forestry sector PAs are an integral component of the forestry
sector and until such time as the forests are managed on a sustainable
basis, PAs will come under constant pressure.
Sustainable NTFP management and poverty alleviation
A large proportion of Lao PDR’s rural poor derives some part of their
livelihood from NTFPs. For many the dependence on NTFPs is a function
of their poverty - they lack better alternatives. Helping poor communities
meet their subsistence and food security needs through sustainable NTFP
management needs to be a high priority for the forestry sector and protected
The role and significance of NTFPs in Lao PDR has been elegantly articulated
“NTFPs are uniquely essential for the Lao national economy, both for
subsistence and trade. NTFPs are key elements in poverty alleviation,
forest and biodiversity conservation, land use planning and allocation,
substitution of shifting cultivation and industrial development. Every
project or program aimed at rural development or biodiversity conservation
in Lao PDR should have an NTFP strategy, similar to the way each project
should have a gender/equity strategy”
Valuing watershed protection
Until such time as water supplies from protected areas are officially
valued, they will be treated as a ‘free resource’ with no revenues channelled
back to protected area management and watershed protection.
Water tariffs are generally introduced to recover costs of supply and
to improve efficiency in use. Tariff levels also need to be set to include
protected area and watershed management costs.
Institutionalising hydropower water catchment levies
Hydropower levies should become a standard policy tool in all hydropower
schemes affecting or benefiting from protected areas with revenues going
directly to conservation management. Such levies should be enacted in
legislation to ensure transparency and a consistent policy so that every
hydropower producer is treated similarly and according to the same conditions
Sustainable upland agriculture
Unsustainable upland agriculture continues to be the subject of extensive
government policy, strategy and action. Effectively managing upland agriculture
is of critical importance to the conservation of protected areas.
Cash crop encroachment and land allocation
For NPA management, the two issues of cash crop encroachment and land
allocation are strongly intertwined, the latter specifically in the form
of zonation which is a legal requirement within NPAs.
Land zoning based on land capability
If land allocation is to result in a successful move from swidden to sedentary
farming, a critical requirement is zoning based on land capability assessment.
Conserving agricultural biodiversity
There is a need to establish protected areas for the purpose of conserving
The fisheries sector would benefit from a re-orientation resulting in:
- official status for wetland protected areas;
- increased assistance for community co-management and conservation;
- a more balanced approach to aquaculture development and conservation
of natural fish habitat; and,
- a specific program for capture fisheries and frogs in upland areas.
Review of Lao PDR ecotourism initiatives
Ecotourism development is a government priority and there are several
initiatives underway, including the well-known Nam Ha project. A review
of the lessons learned would provide practical guidance to provincial
governments in promoting protected areas as a development strategy.
Regulatory framework for ecotourism
Governments are frequently subjected to pressure from tourism enterprises
to choose unrestrained and hasty development over carefully planned growth
at a scale and form appropriate to local conditions and which maintain
the conditions essential for nature-based tourism.
Integrated development planning
Roads to remote areas and especially to or near protected areas should
be built as a component of integrated development plans by provincial
and district authorities.
Not all roads in remote areas need be built for heavy transport or indeed
cars. Road infrastructure should be developed at a scale and form appropriate
to local needs.
Improved environmental assessment and mitigatory action
A component of a good integrated development plan will be an EIA of a
high standard which has a regional perspective and which assesses carefully
the direct and indirect impacts of proposed new roads.
Trade and industry
While domestic trade and use of wildlife in Lao PDR is probably significant,
the cross-border wildlife trade is far more serious in its impact on natural
systems and their long term development potential.
Regional trade cooperation
The wildlife trade in the lower Mekong region is a regional issue, not
solely a bilateral issue and addressing it deserves greater regional recognition
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
Lao PDR should actively build the capacity needed to become a signatory
to and implement CITES – the Convention providing the international umbrella
for management and control of wildlife trade.
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Review of protected areas and their role in socio-economic development
in the four countries of the lower Mekong River region
page updated: 15/12/03