Corn, rubber plantations pose environmental threats: Laos

Many people in Laos are earning high incomes from corn and rubber plantations but these crops can cause serious negative impacts on the environment, according to a new study.

Lao researchers presented the economic valuation of ecosystem services on land use change on non-timber forest products collection, upland rice farming and corn and rubber plantations at a workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, on October 11 to 12.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) funded the workshop, which provided an opportunity to share experiences and lessons learnt with researchers and government delegates from Southern Sudan, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi from Africa, and Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan from Asia, as well as representatives from Wales.

The participants highlighted the importance of environmental valuation studies to inform decision makers who work on poverty reduction and sustainable economic development in their countries.

The Lao delegation was led by National Economic Research Institute Deputy Director General Mr Souphith Darachanthara and Ministry of Planning and Investment's Planning Department Deputy Director General Ms Phonevanh Outhavong.

Environmental economic valuation research in Laos is part of the UNEP's poverty-environment initiative. Research teams consist of members from national institutes, government partners and academic institutions.

The results of the study highlight the costs and benefits of different land use systems in Oudomxay province, including rubber plantations in Namor district, corn plantations and upland rice farms in Hun district, and non-timber forest product collection in Beng district.

According to the study, collection of non-timber forest products and upland rice farming provide the least financial returns and, while they cannot be considered as viable poverty reduction strategies, they do maintain a healthy environment that can provide for basic food and livelihood needs.

Corn and rubber plantations, on the other hand, generate relatively higher incomes and can be considered as potentially effective poverty reduction strategies.

However, the latter two land uses also cause substantive environmental and local health problems that might persist long into the future.

The results of the study will be disseminated at both the provincial and national level later this year to identify and discuss possible policy recommendations with involved organisations and key government stakeholders.

Mr Souphith said the research project was a critical environmental and social safeguard that would aid development by providing information that can influence decisions to effectively integrate environmental impacts and the concerns of poor and vulnerable groups.

Ms Phonevanh also highlighted the importance of the research project and said it provides necessary and relevant information to policy makers as they consider the environmental aspects of large scale investment projects.