Vientiane, Laos, 29 November 2011: A national workshop on Forest Tenure and Policies in Lao PDR was recently held in Vientiane on 28-29 November, 2011. The workshop was hosted by the Department of Forests of Lao PDR and supported by RECOFTC – The Center for People and Forests and Rights and Resources Initiatives (RRI). A key objective of the workshop was to continue the process of learning about forest land tenure reform from various countries, review and reflect on the current states of forest tenure in Lao PDR, and work out potential pathways to forest tenure change.
The workshop was attended by 89 participants representing government agencies, the national assembly, civil society groups, and international organizations working in Lao PDR. In order to share forest tenure reform experiences from other countries, resource persons were invited from China, Nepal, Brazil, and Vietnam.
In the opening remarks, Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Dr. Ty Phommasack expressed that in the context of a government plan to review policies and laws in Lao PDR, the workshop could provide significant input and develop better understanding of the desirability of forest policy change, tenure reform, and community rights amongst stakeholders.
In the welcoming note, Mr. James Bampton from RECOFTC stated that there is a growing competing interest over land, water, and forests between large-scale investors and rural—often poor—communities relying on the same resources for their livelihoods. There is an urgent need to clarify tenure arrangements and ensure that local communities are receiving appropriate benefits from those resources.
While presenting an overview of Asia regional tenure status and trends, Dr. Ganga Dahal of RECOFTC/RRI mentioned that increasingly, forest tenure in several countries is shifting from a focus on government administration to a focus on giving more rights to indigenous people and local communities. However, Dr. Dahal noted that 68% of total forest land in Asia remains under government administration.
In the workshop, Lao delegates presented on key lessons-learned from an exchange visit to examine forest tenure reform in China. On behalf of the delegates, Mr. Chanthaviphone from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources highlighted the need for clarity on tenure distribution, extension of rights to local communities and the private sector, and an increase in economic benefits from the management of Lao forests—both for local people and the government.
Workshop participants discussed the following four thematic issues and identified gaps, opportunities, and assistance needed to address challenges:
● Current status of policies and laws
● Existing information and knowledge system
● Institutional arrangement at both central and local levels
● Existing external assistance in promoting community and private based forest management
Participants working on each theme also presented some recommendations and offered potential ways forward to advance forest tenure and policy changes in Lao PDR.
Given the exciting issuance last week http://www.forestcarbonasia.org/articles/laos-issues-its-first-communal-forest-land-titles-national-workshop/ of the first communal land titles in Sangthong district in Lao PDR, it is expected that community rights and benefits will receive greater consideration in the whole process of the revision of current policies and laws in Lao PDR.
In the closing remarks, Dr. Silavanh, Director General of Department of Forests in Lao PDR, highlighted the need to address identified policy gaps and to develop a clear mechanism to monitor and implement improved policies on the ground.