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Summary of National Report on Protected Areas and Development




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 framework.

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 area managers.

The role and significance of NTFPs in Lao PDR has been elegantly articulated as follows:

“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
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 and standards.


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 agrobiodiversity.


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.

Road development

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.

Appropriate specifications
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

Cross-border cooperation
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 and attention.

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.