To govern is to exercise sovereign authority over one territory, to administer and manage the current affairs of a country. At present time, governing also means to administer and manage the resources of a country in the view of economic, social and human development on a long term basis.
When talking about forest governance, we refer to sustainable management of forest activities and forest resources. Forest governance (or forest management) refers to the way in which forest rights are defined and administered by decision makers. Forest governance is based on an open and enlightened partnership between public authorities and citizens, locally and globally.
Good governance is a foremost principle which intends to provide strategic guidance to policy makers – the government, to make sure that the objectives are being met, to ensure proper risk management and sustainable use of natural resources. Forest governance safeguards the interest of citizens, making sure their voice is being heard in public decision processes.
When opening up its boarders to the market economy in 1986, Lao PDR made development its top priority. After achieving food self-sufficiency food, Lao PDR shifted objective towards poverty eradication which is most prevalent in rural areas and natural resources conservation. According to the World Bank, natural resources appear to account for more than half of the country GDP (gross domestic product).
Agriculture production, forest exploitation activities, mining & quarrying activities and the energy sector form the pillars of Lao economy. Lao government is fully aware of these implications. It committed to protect the national forests and bring the country's total forest cover to some 70% before 2020 (currently forests cover 47% of the national territory).
Still, Lao PDR remains the most wooden country of South-east Asia and it is one of the richest countries of the region in terms of biodiversity.
We count nearly 10 million hectares of forests covering the country lands with 3 million hectares belonging to areas of unique biodiversity. Lao PDR is highly dependent of its forests. socially and economically. Forest resources represent each year at least 34% of Lao GDP.
About 80% of rural population lives in the rural area and goes every day to the forest collecting food, firewood and other diverse products such as medicinal herbs to meet their basic needs.
Non timber forest products (NTFP) (any product other than wood which comes from the forest) represent just over half of the villagers’ incomes (55% of the total incomes in 2003 according to the Ministry for Agriculture and Forests).
Lastly, Forest is a major source of life for rural communities. It has a significant symbolic and religious power for ethnic minorities (spiritual cults to ancestors, rituals).
Land issues are among the most common complaints brought to the National Assembly whose duty is to take into consideration grievances of Lao citizens (Decree 71 of the Prime Minister).
By signing the FAO Voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in 2012, Lao government officially committed to ensure a fair access to land & natural resources (NR) for all but many Lao people still have a limited access to lands & NR.
as a result, malnutrition and stunting remain big issues among ethnic minorities, with many people suffering from chronic diseases. Stunting is most prevalent among young women and children. In many rural communities, the state of food security is still extremely fragile deepening the state of poverty and increasing even more food security issues.
Besides, the land reform affected the livelihoods of numerous rural communities by making natural resources less accessible.
the reform of land tenure system (1994) has extended forest protected areas (afforested lands were set aside) and numerous upland villages have been relocated from the slopes of the mountains to the bottom valleys.
In the resettled villages, the density of population is much more higher than before with people living on smaller land and enjoying limited resources (limited access to forests & agricultural lands). Naturally, the pressure on forests & agricultural lands has been increasing.
with the liberalization of trade, many foreign came in Lao these past 20 years to invest in land. Concession of land have multiplied across the country, making lao farmers more and more dependent on agribusiness companies and external markets (demand).
farmers are not able to negotiate the terms of a land concession agreement because 1) they are hardly aware of their rights and 2) most of the time they lack information on the price market and market outlets. oftentimes, they are shut out of the decision-making, land concessions being discussed between government officials and private investors only.
Forest dependent communities shall be consulted and closely involved in all the stages of the decision-making process when it comes to decision on land-use and forests. Indeed, these decisions are liable to entail serious damages to their environment and livelihoods.
Ethnic minorities must be able to assert their rights over forest lands, the lands they traditionally inhabit (customary rights) and their participation to forest governance is essential to improve forest management practices and reach sustainable development .
This project aims to promote best forest management practices among community-based organizations, ensuring the rights of forest dependent communities over natural resources at the same time.
The final objective is to increase the participation of ethnic minorities, especially women in the forest governance process and help them establish their own development strategy. they gain enough political visibility on land security matters to assert their rights on forest lands and natural resources afterwards.
Gofogo project is funded by the European Comission to the tune of 300 000 euros. This large-scale project goes from north to south of Laos, covering 8 districts of the 6 following provinces:
1) Luang Namtha (Sing)
2) Phongsaly (Ngot Ou & Samphan)
3) Oudomxay (La & Namor)
4) Khammouane (Mahasay)
5) Champassak (Monlapamok)
6) Sekong (Dakcheung).
The project benefits to the population of 65 villages in the target districts. to a larger extent it benefits to the populations of target provinces through a trickle down effect .
This project is carried out by a consortium of NGOs and Care is the leader.
Care works in partnership with CCL, Soda (Social Development Alliance Association), GCA (Green Community Alliance), the Land Issues Working Group (LIWG) and the Lao Bar Association (LBA) to provide strong support to forest communities and help them make good use of their rights.
The Action of Gofogo project unfolds as follow:
1) firstly, the action supports the democratic reform with the promotion of human rights in 8 target districts of the country.
CCL raises awareness of the importance of forests among lao people through the International day of forest event. besides, CCL sensitizes local authorities to ethnic minorities' issues in Phongsaly. In the meantime, the Clinical Legal education goes in 65 target villages to inform people about their rights, with a focus on women rights.
2) the action aims to enhance community-based forest management. CCL together with Care, Soda & GCA, is establishing and strengthening community-based groups and the sustainable use of non timber forest products within the target villages of the 8 districts. CCL is responsible of the province of Phongsaly (Nhot Ou) and Oudomxay (La & Namor).
3) The third action intends to explore how to influence local authorities’ decisions on forest lands by involving closely ethnic minorities in the governance process. To do so, information on forest exploitation trends and local customary practices are needed.
a study on illegal logging (GCA), a social impact study of forest exploitation (CCL), a national gender profile on natural resources management (Soda) are conducted and the forest district profile of the 8 target districts will be soon established. Then the outputs will be disseminated to the steering committee, the project partners and among Lao civil society.
4) At last, this action is facilitating the dialogue between rural communities and governmental delegations, ensuring at the same time the enforcement of minorities' rights : their rights over lands, forest lands & natural resources.