Restoring the Phou Phanang forest: Lao youth dig in

Digging the soil and planting saplings in the hot outdoors is hard work, but brings personal satisfaction for the many young people who are trying to restore the forest areas in their native villages in Phou Phanang forest in Lao PDR. One of the young female volunteers, 16-year-old Nanthana Vongmeunka said: “We have been living near the Phou Phanang forest since we were born. It is now time for us to serve our community to restore these forest areas for their benefit.”

The Phou Phanang (Phanang Mountain) forest was declared a National Protected Area in 1993. Located about 45 minutes from the capital of Vientiane, this 1,525-sq. km forested area that runs the length of Sangthong district is facing degradation from a number of factors including over-use of the forest resources.

The Government of Lao PDR is working with local authorities to restore some of the degraded forest areas and strengthen forest conservation. Illegal logging in Phou Phanang is seen as a key problem.1

The goal of the Government of Lao PDR (GoL) is to increase forest cover to 70 percent by 2020 given the rapid decline in the country’s natural forest areas over the past two decades.2 According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, national forest cover in Laos was around 71.6 percent (17 million hectares) in the 1960s; by 2010, forest cover had fallen to around 40.3 percent (9.5 million hectares).3

View of Phu Phanang forest from Nahoi village. (Photo by Chanthila Kongthongthip.)

Nahoi village is a small village of 167 households in Sangthong district. The local livelihoods are mainly dependent on collecting food from the Phou Phanang forest, fishing, and farming. Some families also run small businesses to earn extra income.

Nahoi village is one of the villages that has joined the government’s plan to raise community environmental awareness and restore forest areas.

The Rural Development Agency (RDA), a Lao non-profit organization, is supporting Nahoi villagers in their reforestation efforts. RDA is under the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC), an agency empowering rural community-based development, that takes a key role in community forest conservation.

One of the key projects for RDA is to engage youth in environment protection and working together with local communities in reforestation.

“We are planting trees such as bamboo, rubber, eucalyptus, and teak. We usually plant trees during the raining season which is during June to August every year,” explained an RDA staff member.

Out in the sun: Youth volunteers are working alongside local communities to plant saplings in the Phou Phanang National Protected Area. (Photo by Bounmany Bounpaseuth.)

Apart from tree-planting activities, the youth volunteers are also trained to become community facilitators in topics such as resource use, action research, and how to initiate community dialogue on land and water use, and natural resource management.

The training includes hands-on activities and self-development incorporating sharing and exchanging experiences among participants, experts and trainers. Group work and group discussion are crucial components for the youth to express their ideas and opinions. All the activities help to ensure the youth can conduct these activities on their own in other communities.

“We need to preserve the forest for our next generation as well as promote reforestation in our community. We want young people to be involved in this effort,” said Mr Khamphou Thongkhammy, the 45-year-old head of the Nahoi village in Sangthong district, Lao PDR.

Now more than 6,000 trees have been planted around the local village areas in the past year, and the youth volunteers have become community facilitators on environmental conservation in the village. The youth have also conducted activities for younger kids at the Nahoi primary school such as games, songs, role-play, and storytelling on forest and water topics. They also ran an advocacy campaign to raise local awareness about resource management.

Young teenagers, some of whom were born in Phouphanang district, returned from the city to help restore the forest in their native villages. (Photo by Bounmany Bounpaseuth.)

“Natural resources play an important role in our life now and is crucial for our future well-being. While development brings good things to our life, we should also make sure that it does not destroy our environment,” said Ms Kethmany Savathdy, a 19-year-old university student.

The youth empowerment and leadership project is growing, and showing that the environmental conservation efforts in Lao PDR can happen with the close cooperation between local communities, civil society, and the government. The youth needs to be involved since the goal of forest protection requires the youth to work with, and learn from, the local community.

“The most interesting lesson for me is to see the important role of women in forest conservation,” said Ms Doaphone Mahavanh, a 22-year-old undergraduate studying social work. “The program also taught me the importance of accountability and having an open mind towards new experiences when working with the local community,” she added.


Show 3 footnotes

  1. Vientiane Times. 25 Jul 2014. “Illegal logging in Phouphanang stems from lack of forest patrols“.
  2. Ian Lloyd Thomas. September 2015. USAID Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests (USAID LEAF) – Drivers of Deforestation in the Greater Mekong Subregion, Lao PDR Country Report. Retrieved from: PDR Final-Revised-Nov2015.pdf
  3. Ibid.

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