Forestry dept: development must balance with environmental protection
Forestry officials have warned this week that all development projects need to take environmental protection into account, to ensure the sustainable growth of the national economy.
Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Forestry Department, Dr Silavanh Sawathvong, said important forestry areas had been lost in past years as a result of development projects.
He gave the examples of rubber plantations, road construction and mining projects as causes of forestry loss.
The government has set a target to return the country’s forest coverage to 65 percent by 2015 and 70 percent by 2020 to help address the future impacts of climate change.
“It is very, very challenging to reach this goal,” Dr Silavanh admitted, adding “We set the target based on the conditions presented by nature.”
But he said development projects were now operating throughout the country and, if measures to protect the environment fail, people’s livelihoods and the country in general will suffer as a result.
“Forestry development needs to be at the front line of all development operations,” he said.
One aspect of forestry loss is the amount of young trees cut for makeshift scaffolding on various construction projects, despite calls from the prime minister two years ago that construction firms move away from old practices and use metal scaffolding instead.
Felling young trees is disastrous for forestry as this prevents trees reaching maturity and boosting coverage levels, but the practice persists in the construction industry.
The forestry department is aiming to counter such damaging practices by encouraging various sectors to set up a forestry development fund to make Laos a greener nation in the future.
The fund would be used to support tree plantation activities in which the trees would be left to grow and reach maturity.
Dr Silavanh said government sectors that caused forestry loss would also be encouraged to contribute to preserving Laos’s forests, particularly the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and Ministry of Energy and Mines.
“We are collaborating with these sectors and they agree with our ideas, but more discussion is needed,” he said, adding that the Lao National Tourism Administration also agreed with the idea to preserve forests as a tourist attraction.
So far privately owned tree plantations are generally aimed at commercial purposes, and most planted trees will be cut down once they mature.
In the first instance, the department will encourage the private sector to set up the fund, and the second stage will be to involve government sectors.
Forestry is vital to the livelihoods of Lao people as aside from the need for environmental protection to sustain economic growth many remote Lao communities are dependent on non-timber forestry products as a source of food and income.
Forest coverage in Laos was around 70 percent in 1940, covering 17 million hectares. This figure dropped to 54 percent in 1973, 47 percent in 1982 and 41 percent in 2001.
Dr Silavanh said he bel ieves the goal to restore forest coverage to 70 percent by 2020 can be reached, although forests will not be as dense as in 1940 as so many fully grown trees have been cut down in the intervening years.