A village elder, responsible for managing conflict in Ban Langchong village, Mr Phimpha is a happy man these days. The intercommunity problems that used to arise between his village and that of neighbouring Ban Longhang in Phoukoud district are far and few between, less serious and much easier to manage.
Mr Phimpha’s newly found peace is the result of a participative forestry and land use planning and management approach known as P-FALUPAM introduced as part of the recently ended Swiss-funded Agro-Biodiversity Initiative (TABI) project.
“It was often hard to find agreement because people have different ideas about where the boundaries are. Many times, we were not able to agree on who was right or wrong or even on what the penalties should be. Everyone said they are doing things in their own territory,” Mr Phimpha explains.
Ambiguous boundaries – such as those based on local knowledge of mountain slopes, rivers, creeks, distinctive vegetation, and natural landmarks – are often an underlying cause of conflict in upland Lao communities where people are dependent on rotational agriculture systems and adjacent forestland for the collection of non-timber forest products for food and income.
Unchecked, these can lead to more serious conflicts and an atmosphere of distrust. Until P-FALUPAM, there was no systematic method or approach to resolving conflict resulting from the uncontrolled extraction of natural resources because the village boundaries were neither clear nor official.
Using the P-FALUPAM process facilitated by district authorities, representatives from the two villages met to view maps and copies of management plans. “Village heads signed an agreement on the boundary between our two villages and organised meetings to inform everyone of the outcome. Now that we have village land use planning and regulations, we have fewer conflict cases and they are not so serious…When there is no conflict, I am not stressed. I am happy to see more peaceful relations between our two villages,” says Mr. Phimpha.
A clear link between land governance and livelihoods
In addition to reducing conflict, P-FALUPAM has enabled many locals to start or grow their agro-businesses and improve their livelihoods by ensuring the sustainable and equitable use of agriculture and forest land among different users. Women like 35-year-old Kheum Houmphone in Sopjia village have been be able to develop a successful broom grass trade thanks to a process where local villagers identified areas for cattle rearing, pastureland, and crop production areas for growing broom grass.
Ms. Kheum attended a TABI training workshop on how to make brooms. “I started buying broom grass from other villagers at 10,000 kip per kilo (USD 1.10/kg). With 1 kilo of broom grass, I can make three brooms, which I can sell to traders for 14,000 Kip each (USD 1.50),” she says.
While TABI provided the skills for Ms. Kheum to make and market brooms, P-FALUPAM ensured a steady supply of broom grass for local broom-makers and for traders who sell to Vietnamese and Thai broom factories. Designating specific areas for grass cultivation helps protect broom grass from wildfires and uncontrolled cattle grazing.
Bringing quantitative data to life
Mr Phimpha’s and Ms Kheum’s stories are just two of many showcased in the newly released Most Significant Change Stories report written in English and Lao. Based on a recommendation from TABI’s monitoring and evaluation team to make better use of its extensive information base, these stories are meant to illustrate the positive outcomes and impacts of TABI.
Alongside these stories, TABI also released a beautifully illustrated coffee table book that mixes novel-style story-telling with facts from the project in a creative tapestry of people, change, challenges and success. Living Landscapes: Embracing Biodiversity in Northern Laos is not an evaluation or assessment of TABI’s performance bur rather “a sincere effort to learn from the work that TABI did along with a wide range of partners and stakeholders over its 10-year journey”.
Speaking at the TABI closing ceremony where the book was released, Lao PDR Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Linkham Douangsavanh said “For over ten years, TABI has worked to develop and restore biodiversity in order to sustain abundance and alleviate the poverty of ethnic groups in rural and upland areas of Laos. I can confirm the initiative has been very important in supporting the goals of the Government in the protection, restoration, administration and use of biodiversity and agriculture, enhancing the potential for sustainability in line with the policy on green development.”
TABI was initiated in 2009 and ran over three phases during which it identified, tested and disseminated sustainable, conservation-friendly agro-biodiversity-based livelihood models for 30 product value chains. TABI’s crowning glory – the innovative P-FALUPAM process – is based on the recognition of traditional land management practices of upland communities and aims to contribute to better stewardship of the land including science-based rotational agriculture and an increase of forest cover.