Explore researchers work with communities to support adaptation and strengthen forest landscape governance in Lao PDR

30 April 2024
Hao (Hope) Zhuang
Practitioner's Insights
Community members in Nahao village, Khammousane province, Lao PDR with Hao Zhuang (fourth from right), Explore’s program manager and Chanhsamone Phongoudome (third from left), member of the Explore Program Advisory Committee.
Community members in Nahao village, Khammousane province, Lao PDR with Hao Zhuang (fourth from right), Explore’s program manager and Chanhsamone Phongoudome (third from left), member of the Explore Program Advisory Committee.

On a warm day in March 2024, I traveled with a Lao PDR research team from the capital Vientiane to a remote research site bordering Viet Nam. After traversing the roads – and crossing rivers on a raft – for 10 hours, we arrived at the Khouane Kha Golm village in the Boualapha district in the middle of the night.

There is a community of 120 Indigenous households in Khouane Kha Golm. Situated within the Hin Namon National Park, the village has a population of 530 people, 260 of whom are women. However, women continue to be exclusively engaged in domestic work and caring for families. They do not participate in decision-making processes, and the village committee does not have a single woman member. 

I was visiting as part of a larger team gathering community perspectives on the roles of gender in forest governance.

Forest governance and rights 

In Khouane Kha Golm, locals grow cassava on their agricultural land. While the crop supports their livelihoods, cassava plantation has consequences for the village’s forests. As continuous production of cassava on the same plot of land can lead to soil nutrient depletion, new land for production is often cleared by burning forests, which depletes and irreversibly changes this natural resource. 

Living in the forest comes with both rights and responsibilities. With rights to access the forest and use its natural resources comes responsibilities to manage forest resources and serve as forest stewards.

On the one hand, our research team has observed that men assume the responsibility of livelihood and general decision-making for families and the village. Women are not involved in any of these decisions, including on land use and agriculture. They are simply witnesses.

On the other hand, forest inhabitants’ responsibility of managing and protecting forests cannot be fulfilled if the local communities’ involvement in forest landscape governance is uncertain or limited. From the community members’ perspective, the establishment of this area as a national park in 2020 challenged the first condition of their rights. Villagers face tightening access to the forest around them. 

Explore lead researcher, Sypha Chanthavong, a faculty of law and political science at the National University of Laos, sees that communities are distressed. “Villagers have multiple grievances and feel like an injustice has been inflicted upon them,” he says. Because they must register with forest authorities and ensure that their collection of forest products is also recorded, their access to forests is more limited now. They risk being fined or punished if they enter forests without registration.

Sypha provides legal advice and assistance by helping the community draft and submit petitions to local authorities. At this moment, the community is awaiting a response from authorities on their request to access the forest and clarify what restricted access entails. 

In this fluid policy environment, the Explore research team is working to understand gendered implications and help strengthen forest landscape governance by working closely with communities – both men and women – in the village.

Agriculture and adaptation

After spending a day in Khouane Kha Golm, I joined a second Explore research team in Lao PDR studying the effect of climate change on forest landscape governance. They are working in Nahao village, which is also in Khammousane Province.

As sites of an ongoing study being conducted by the Explore project with the National University of Laos and the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, Nahao and Khouane Kha Golm were chosen for their similarities.

Both villages are situated within national parks. Nahao, however, is more difficult to access. It is located inside the Nakai-Nam Theun National Park and can only be reached by boat as a result of flooding in the surrounding areas, caused by the construction of a dam nearby. The forest where the community lives is now inside a reservoir. 

Villagers in Nahao have traditionally grown crops such as rice and tobacco, but here too, in recent years the production of cassava has increased. The cassava crop can be grown with a minimum of inputs, and it brings significantly greater economic benefits for farmers. While the income generated varies from household to household, it can reach up to USD 2,000 a year.

With hopes of increasing their earnings with the land they have, increasing numbers of villagers here are planting cassava. This is despite their observing and knowing that cassava plantation decreases soil fertility. “Cassava is the best livelihood choice available to us,” they say. Farmers see it as a way for them to improve their lives and those of their families. 

Climate change and community perspectives

As incidents of flood and drought increase because of climate change, communities are faced with greater difficulty in sustaining their livelihoods. They must adapt and use the natural resources they are surrounded by. 

In both Khouane Kha Golm and Nahao villages, community members notice climate change through livelihood circumstances such as irregular seasons, more flooding, drought, temperature change, decreasing agriculture yields. 

As climate change adaptation is one of our focus areas, it is valuable that Explore researchers are bringing their expertise to support local communities in adaptation. Led by the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, our research teams have expertise in agricultural adaptation technologies and their applications. They are currently offering advice and technical support to introduce drip-irrigation systems and drought-resistant crops to assist farmers to adapt to climate change and its impacts. They have also identified some training needs on climate change awareness, women’s empowerment, government policy on gender issues and agriculture soil improvement.


Hao (Hope) Zhuang is program manager for the Explore program.

About Explore

Explore is a research network and community of practice dedicated to expanding and applying knowledge on forest landscape governance in Southeast Asia. It is the only research network in the world focused on forest landscape governance.  

Launched in October 2020, Explore is funded by the Government of Sweden. The network is hosted by RECOFTC, in partnership with the CIFOR-ICRAF, in collaboration with universities, research institutes, governments, civil society organizations, local communities, and the private sector in Southeast Asia. 

For more information, please visit

RECOFTC’s work is made possible with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Government of Sweden.