Easy access to fertile forests like those bordering Tong Yang’s community of Khangkhao is no longer a given in Lao PDR. Although the country with around seven million inhabitants has the highest proportion of land under forest cover on the South-East Asian mainland, the jungle area has shrunk considerably in recent decades. In the mid-1960s, 70 per cent of the national territory was still forested. Today, the figure is just 58 per cent and much of what is left has suffered significant damage.
Slash-and-burn practices linked to agricultural development are one of the main drivers of this decline – in Khangkhao, too, the bare patches have become bigger and bigger over recent years. Together with other villagers, Tong Yang wants to help to reverse this trend. ‘The forest provides us with fresh air, it provides us with food,’ she says while unearthing some roots that she can sell as traditional medicine at the market. ‘Obviously, we have to ensure that it is preserved.’
The people protecting the forest are being supported by a project being implemented in Lao PDR by GIZ on behalf of the German Development Ministry (BMZ) and with financial support from the Green Climate Fund. 240 communities are now working to make agriculture and forestry sustainable. The goal is to stop deforestation, thereby preventing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – while improving the living conditions of the local population at the same time.