Final report Small research and development activity project Australia–Laos Timber Chain of Custody Capacity Building Project

Management of forestry/forest resources in Lao PDR

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5.3.Management of forestry/forest resources in Lao PDR

5.3.1Forestry Law

The management and conservation of forest resources in the Lao PDR is complex and contested. To address concerns over illegal and unsustainable trade in forest products from native forests, including wildlife, the GoL is responding to trade and market requirements and establishing a legal framework that is designed to guarantee and promote the sustainability and legality of their forest products (Table 7.3).

The GoL has demonstrated a long term commitment to improving forest management and promoting sustainable practices across all forest types (T. Ratanalangsy, pers. comm.) and its forest policy framework is robust and evolving (B. Adams, pers. comm.). They have achieved voluntary certification under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for 85,000 ha of natural forests, including village forestry organisations in Savannahkhet and Khammouane Provinces, and are progressing initiatives such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

In 1989, the GoL sponsored a national forestry conference which identified a need to achieve sustainable forest management outcomes based around three objectives:

  1. preservation of forests and improvement of management to increase production

  2. rationalisation of the use of forests to increase their economic value

  3. ending shifting cultivation and establishing permanent settlement for the 1.5 million people affected (Kingsada 1998).

Action was initiated in the same year through the issuing of Council of Minister’s Decree No. 117: Management and Use of Forest and Forest Land which defined the roles and responsibilities for forest use of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and Nº 118: Control and Management of Aquatic Animals, Wildlife, Hunting and Fishing which placed the management and ownership of wildlife under government control (LaoPDR 2005).

Importantly, Decree 117 also incorporated community provisions which:

  • allocate 2.5 ha of forest and forest land to each household adult over the age of 18 and 100–500 ha to each village for each family

  • allow villagers to manage and use allocated forests sustainably

  • allow villagers to inherit or transfer allocated forests to others

  • recognise ownership by individuals and groups of degraded land where they must plant trees, regenerate native forests, grow crops or raise livestock (LaoPDR 2005; Manivong and Sophathilath 2007; Samonity 2010).

These initiatives have been refined through Prime Ministerial Decrees No 164/PM – Decree on the National Forestry Reservation over the Country (Siphandone 1993), No. 169/PM – Decree of the Prime Minister on the Management and Use of Forests and Forest Lands (Keobualapha 1993), and No. 186/PM – Decree on the Allotment of Forests for Plantation and Preservation (Siphandone 1994).

Lao has followed these decrees with action, declaring 3.31 million ha as National Biodiversity Conservation Areas. There are now 20 conservation areas, ranging in size from 20,000 ha at Dong Ampham to 353,200 ha at Nakai Nam Theun (Nature Worldwide 2010).

However, the establishment of reserves and conservation areas does not, in itself, protect forests or promote sustainable forest management. To address this issue, Decree 169 provided the framework for the development of the 1996 Forestry Law which clarifies responsibilities for the administration, maintenance, use of forestry resources and forest lands (Inoue and Hyakumura 1999).

Under the Forestry Law, harvesting is only authorised in production forests with management plans approved by local communities and must meet three national criteria based around a logging quota managed by central government; infrastructure development quota; and a domestic consumption quota (Phanvilay 2008). While the export of whole log is banned under the Forestry Law, exemptions may be made, including significant projects which are conducted in the national interest, such as roads, transmissions and hydro electrical projects (B. Adams pers. comm.; Samonity 2010).

Under the 2007 Forestry Law and the Wildlife and Aquatic Law 2007 the GoL has vested specific departments with legislative responsibility for sustainable forest management, monitoring and compliance at national, provincial, district and village levels. This approach provides mechanisms that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and legality. They also promote the value of forests in supporting conservation, social, economic and national objectives such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Table Key Lao environmental laws and initiatives relating to forestry.

Adapted from Siphandone 1993; Inoue and Hyakumura 1999; Cleetus 2005; Manivong 2005; PEMSEA 2010)

Laws and Regulations


Key Provisions

New Economic Mechanism


Begins restructuring toward a more market-oriented economy

Decree No. 117: Management and Use of Forest


Defined the roles and responsibilities for forest use of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, and provided for community and individual land use rights.

Decree Nº 118: Control and Management of Aquatic Animals, Wildlife, Hunting and Fishing


Placed the management and ownership of wildlife under government control.

Tropical Forest Action Plan


Developed forest management plans for the country, emphasising community involvement and alternatives to traditional shifting cultivation.

Decree No 164/PM: National Forestry Reservation over the Country


Established National Biodiversity Conservation Areas, with a total land area of 3 million ha.

Decree No. 169/PM: Management and Use of Forests and Forest Lands


Placed all forest and forest land under the control of MAF, and excluded permanent agricultural land use activities. It also acknowledged the traditional use of the forest according to village customs.

Decree No. 186/PM: Allotment of Forests for Plantation and Preservation


Formalised land and forest allocation, divided into two categories. One is the land for planting trees, the other is the land for the conservation of existing forest.

Agreement on the cooperation for the sustainable development of the Mekong River Basin


An agreement between the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Lao PDR, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam that established the Mekong River Commission. It promotes a constructive and mutually beneficial sustainable development, utilisation, conservation and management of the Mekong River Basin. It recognises the need to protect, preserve, enhance and manage the environmental and aquatic conditions and maintenance of the ecological values within the Basin.

Forestry Law


Formalised the classification of land, management and planning, biodiversity conservation.

Water and Water Resource Law


Established principles, rules, and measures relative to the administration, exploitation, use and development of water and water resources. To preserve sustainable water and water resources and to ensure its quantity and quality providing for peoples living requirements, promoting agriculture, forestry, and industry, developing the national socio-economy and ensuring that no damage is caused to the environment.

Land Law


Provides for the classification of land, as well as mechanisms for the allocation of land to individuals and companies.

Environmental Protection Law


Established a framework to advocate public participation and the use of Environmental Impact Assessments in project planning.

National Poverty Eradication and Growth Strategy


Developed five-year strategic plans for poverty reduction and eradication.

NPA Regulations


Clarifies the concept of National Protected Areas.

National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan


Established a framework for the planning for biodiversity conservation.

Prime Minister’s Order No. 30


Proclaimed it illegal to harvest rare species such as May Kha Nhung (Dalbergia cochinchinensis), May Khamphi (Dalberghia cultrata), May Dou Lai (Pterocarpus macrocarpus), May Longleng (Cunninghamia spp), and May Dou Leaung (Pterocarpus pedatus).

Review Forestry Law


Establishment of the Department of Forest Inspection and clarification of roles and responsibilities between enforcement agencies.

Wildlife and Aquatic Law


Established principles, regulations and measures on the protection and management of natural wildlife and aquatic life, and establishes the framework for declaring species endangered and protected.

In addition to domestic laws and policies, the GoL is an active member of the United Nations and a signatory to a number of international agreements which bind the government to principles of sustainable development. These include

  • Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin

  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

  • ASEAN Wildlife Law Enforcement Network

  • Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade – Asia program (FLEGT), and the associated 2001 Ministerial declaration and Memoranda of Understanding on illegal logging and associated trade

  • Association of South-East Asian Nations Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (ASEAN-FLEG) initiative

  • European Commission Regional Programming for Asia program (FLEGT 2001; EU_ECP 2006; Lawson and MacFaul 2010).

These structures and agreements, in combination with other domestic environmental laws and policies (such as the National Five Year Plan (2011-2015), National Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, and National Forest Strategy 2020), and international treaties provide a robust framework for managing forest wood harvesting and addressing illegal trade of these commodities within Lao and with its neighbours.

5.3.2Department of Forestry

The Department of Forestry is an agency within the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. It has overall responsibility for coordinating preparation of production forest management plans in association with relevant sectors and local authorities to ensure an effective and sustainable use of native forest resources throughout the country. This includes the identification of conservation and protection forest areas.

DOF is also responsible for defining the principles, technical and legal prescriptions for logging and harvesting of forest products, criteria for log measuring and grading, sustainability yields and harvesting quotas for native trees, as well as the development of codes of harvesting which incorporate continuous improvement objectives for forest harvesting standards and practices.

DOF works with Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Offices (PAFOs) and other local authorities to undertake specific field surveys and assessments related to the development and implementation of approved forest land use development or conservation status. District Agriculture and Forestry Offices (DAFOs) are then entrusted with responsibility for ensuring compliance of implementation by the district Forest Management Units (FMU) with approved forest management plans. As yet, the responsibility for compliance is not a fully separate activity within districts, and this may create the potential for conflict until such time as a clear separation of roles and responsibilities are achieved across and within agencies.

Importantly, the role of Village Forestry Organizations (VFOs) is to organise villagers’ participation in implementation of forest management activities under a Village Forest Management Agreement (VFMA) signed between the VFO and the respective FMU. The VFMA specifies the rights and responsibilities of signatories, the scope of village participation, and the revenue-sharing arrangement. The DOF publication Village Rights and Responsibilities to Manage and Use Forest, Forestland and Aquatic-Wild Animals (2009) is an easy-to-read guidebook that outlines (in text and illustrations) these roles and responsibilities and is used as a basis for extension activities.

      1. Department of Forest Inspection

The Department of Forest Inspection (DOFI) was established in 2008 and has primary responsibility under the Forestry Law and the Wildlife and Aquatic Law for legal enforcement of forest policies, regulations and legislation, including illegal logging, smuggling of timber and wildlife, forestry related corruption, and illegal land encroachment. The department is also responsible for the development of a comprehensive compliance system to prevent, detect and prosecute forest crimes over all forest landscapes, resources and supply chains.

DOFI is a department of MAF and its Director General reports to the Minister for Agriculture and Forestry. DOFI has three divisions: Human Resources Development; Operations; and Planning and International Relations (Figure 7.1). There are 449 staff working across 17 provinces, and the department manages five international checkpoints.

DOFI’s budget is currently financed through the government Forest and Forest Resource Development Fund and a Japanese Policy and Human Resource Development (PHRD) grant. Future funding will come through revenue-sharing allocations from the Nam Theun 2 Power Company and forest development initiatives.

DOFI is a unique agency as it has powers of arrest and confiscation, as well as the authority to issue fines or prepare cases for prosecution. However, it has limited resources and enforcement capacity as it has few vehicles which limits patrols and investigation capability. Consequently, most investigations are reactive, and there is no systematic system of monitoring or auditing activities.

The department is still relatively new and its roles and responsibilities are yet to be fully developed. Encouragingly, there is now clear recognition and acceptance across jurisdictions of the department’s role and responsibilities under the Forestry Law and Wildlife and Aquatic Law.

The department is also encouraging staff to be proactive and introduce more regular visits to mills and forest operations to increase awareness of the department’s role, and provide opportunities to establish good relationships and cultivate informants. This approach will also assist in identifying and promoting good practices by private and public firms working legally and responsibly.

Within these limitations, DOFI is strengthening its enforcement role. In January 2011 the department launched the Forest Inspection Strategy to the Year 2020 which formalises the department’s structure (Figure 1) and identifies strategies for reform that are designed to provide for full departmental independence. This change is designed to demonstrate a transparent governance process and law enforcement capability. The strategy focuses on five core capacity-building initiatives which are:

  1. Planning. Establish international and domestic partnerships to focus on combined approaches to reduce illegal activities. This is supported through internal restructuring which will develop four divisions to focus on forests and mills, wildlife, transportation, and international borders.

  2. Operations. An intelligence-led approach to law enforcement is being developed which incorporates education and community engagement strategies, as well as a complaints handling process, designed to foster support and compliance. A proactive and targeted communication strategy is also proposed to promote the role of DOFI. Law enforcement training will be provided to staff, and their roles and responsibilities will be clarified. The establishment of a rapid response team is also favoured where specialist skills are required.

  3. Human Resource Development. Focusing on the need to attract and retain the right people into the right job. Consequently, a skills- and experience-based approach is being developed for current staffing and future recruitment. It will develop effective training and leadership initiatives, and performance standards and succession planning strategies, to address the short, middle and long term needs of the organisation.

  4. Administration. The development of transparent and independent governance arrangements are proposed to promote autonomous approaches to the management of resources and enforcement of legislation.

  5. Infrastructure Development. Improvements are focused on buildings, safety and security, transportation, communications and technology. These improvements are necessary to support staff in carrying out their responsibilities, as well as fostering a professional approach to law enforcement.

Figure Structure of DOFI

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