Group of women staring at paper
A participatory assessment being conducted in the Ban Tha and Ban Beng ethnic communities in Phou Xieng Thong national protected area.
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An alternative to illegal wildlife trade? Laotian communities tap into rattan, the new “green gold”, for income

In a national park where poaching and small-scale logging are serious concerns, the abundance of a naturally renewable palm in the wild can be part of the solution.

28. Jul 2020

There’s money to be made in Lao PDR’s Phou Xieng Thong national protected area (PXT-NPA), and it’s not from poaching of pangolins and monitor lizards or small-scale logging. Rattan – a climbing palm that is found in more than 1000 hectares of the 1200-square kilometer world heritage park on the banks of the Mekong River – can be a potential source of livelihood for the Ban Tha and Ban Beng ethnic communities in Salavan Province.

“On average, a person in the two communities – which are home to almost 2000 people who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods – can earn up to LAK 300,000 (USD 33.15) in a month from collecting rattan with simple tools,” said Souvanhpheng Phommasane leader of a research team conducting a recent participatory assessment.

Like bamboo, rattan can be processed into house flooring, panels and cladding as well as baskets and other woven items. The global value of bamboo and rattan trade is estimated at $60 billion annually.  

“If a bigger share of the rattan value chains in the domestic and international markets could be captured, this ubiquitous palm could provide an important source of income for Lao communities,” Souvanhpheng explains. “Moreover, because rattan grows best under a natural tree cover, it provides an incentive to local communities to protect their local forest from illegal logging and slash-and-burn cultivation.”

Alternative livelihood development

To examine the use of, and the communities’ dependency on, several non-timber forest products, a rapid assessment was conducted in June 2020 under the EU-funded Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN (BCAMP) project. With technical support from NIRAS, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) implements BCAMP.

The project supports the development of the overall management plan for PXT-NPA. We aim to craft a holistic and actionable plan that considers livelihood interventions and contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the area. This also provides long-term solutions to tackle the emergence and outbreaks of zoonotic diseases.

ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim

Carried out in collaboration with Lao PDR’s Department of Forestry, the assessment involved field interviews with members of the community and is the first step towards ensuring that valuable resources found in PXT-NPA are sustainably managed and can continue to support the community livelihoods in the future.

Ecological value

PXT-NPA is known as an area of outstanding beauty, breath-taking mountain views, and cultural treasures. Covered mostly by semi-evergreen forest, the area hosts a large variety of animals and birds, including endangered species. Part of the area has been identified as an important bird area with endangered species including the green peafowl, the grey-headed parakeet, and the red-collared woodpecker.

 

16

mammal species catalogued

188

bird species catalogued

 

Rattan bears fruits that are food for hornbills, primates, and elephants, all of whom serve as seed dispersers for the rattan. Apart from their significant role in preventing soil displacement, several rattan species also have developed morphological adaptations, making then suitable nesting sites for ant colonies. The ants also "farm" scale insects that feed on the rattan phloem cells secreting a sweet honeydew that the ants then feed on. 

“The loss of rattan species can, therefore, degrade the overall ecosystem services, which has far-reaching consequences not just in the localities but in the global biodiversity and public health and well-being, as well”, ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim said.

According to Lim, the management plan of PXT-NPA may serve as a guide for future interventions coming from government agencies and conservation organisations, particularly on capacity and livelihood development in the communities and other measures that promote effective use and management of natural resources.