IUCN - Going nuts about forests

Going nuts about forests

24 January 2011 | News story

In Laos, the sustainable harvesting of medicinal seeds from the native malva nut tree is helping to improve both the lives of local people and the state of the region’s forests.

The resource-rich forests of Laos provide rural communities with a range of foods, medicines, building materials and fuel. Champassak Province, to the south of the country, has a high forest cover and low population density but has been affected by unregulated exploitation of its natural resources. A road building project underway to connect Vietnam, Laos and Thailand will add further stress to the surrounding forests and wetlands, and to livelihoods that depend on the resources these landscapes produce.

Through its Livelihoods and Landscapes initiative, IUCN is working to strengthen the management of these forests and wetlands in the face of increasing demand for land and resources. The project aims to boost the incomes of the poor population by improving land-use management and marketing systems.

In Champassak Province, in the ‘corridor’ between two protected areas, IUCN has developed a comprehensive and functioning management system, including for permits, fees and penalties, for the malva nut tree (Scaphium macropodum). Seeds from the malva nut have long been used as a traditional medicine in South East Asia and provide an important source of income to the villagers in this area.

Previously, people from outside the local communities dominated harvesting of the malva seeds. Collecting the seeds is not easy as the trees can grow to a great height. Whole trees were often being felled to ease collection and prevent competition from other collectors.

“IUCN, in collaboration with the village communities, the District and the Provincial Governments, has developed an innovative management and trading system for the most important non-timber forest product in the area," says Christoph Muziol, Country Programme Coordinator for IUCN Laos. "We are pleased that this approach has created significant benefits both through effectively protecting the local forests and improving the livelihoods of poor village households in the landscape.”

Now, local access rights to the malva nut, which were already defined, are being enforced and in target villages, felling has stopped. The management system has helped villagers take ownership of their resources while furthering their understanding of the harvesting cycles of malva nut and the importance of protecting their natural resources. Much still needs to be done however to overcome marketing constraints that work against local people.

IUCN is also working to reduce illegal logging in Laos through its Forest Law Enforcement and Governance (FLEG) project. It supports the Department of Forestry Inspection with training, information gathering and networking initiatives to enhance its understanding of forest governance as well as capacity to investigate illegal logging.

Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy (LLS) is a global IUCN project working in 23 countries and funded by the Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS) of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For more information please contact:

Daniel Shaw of IUCN's Forest Conservation Programme, e. daniel.shaw@iucn.org