Rattan: “Green Gold” for Lao PDR’s Phou XiengThong National Protected Area communities

In a national park and its fringes where poaching of wild animals and small-scale logging are serious concerns, tapping into the abundance of a naturally renewable palm in the wild like rattan can be part of the solution.

A team of Lao researchers in a recent participatory assessment has identified four main rattan species found in Lao PDR’s Phou Xieng Thong National Protected Area (PXT-NPA) as potential sources of livelihood for the Ban Tha and Ban Beng communities in Lakornpheng district, Saravan.

These species of rattan, namely, Waithok (Calamus soritarius); Wai hangnou (Calamus tertradactylus); Wai thone (Calamus viminalis); and Wai nokkhor (Calamus wialing), can be collected from the wild and be made into handicrafts.

According to the team’s estimates, there is rattan in more than 1,000 ha in the entire PXT-NPA and in about 200 to 300 ha in the vicinity of the two villages.

The rapid assessment was conducted in June 2020 under the Biodiversity Conservation and Management of Protected Areas in ASEAN (BCAMP) project to examine the use of, and the communities’ dependency on, several non-timber forest products.

BCAMP is a five-year programme being implemented by the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) with the financial support of the European Union, and technical support of Niras International Consulting. Done in collaboration with Lao PDR’s Department of Forestry, the assessment is the first step towards ensuring that valuable resources found in the protected area are sustainably managed and can continue to support the livelihoods of the communities in the future.

“The project supports the development of the overall management plan for PXT-NPA. We aim to craft a holistic and actionable plan that considers livelihood interventions and contributes to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the area,” said ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim.

Spanning 1,200 sq km and located around 50 km north of Champassak, PXT-NPA is the only national protected area on the banks of the Mekong River. It covers parts of three districts in two provinces in Southern Lao PDR, namely Lakonpheng district in Saravan and Khongxedon and Sanasomboun districts in Champassak.

Livelihood development

Research team leader Souvanhpheng Phommasane said on the average, a person in the two communities surveyed at the PXT-NPA can earn up to LAK 300,000 (USD 33.15) in a month from collecting rattan with simple tools.

The two communities are home to 469 households or a total population of 1,961.

Souvanhpheng said results of the assessment of the rattan value chains and their impacts on incomes, along with the location, status, and use of rattan resources will be incorporated in the development of the management plan for PXT-NPA.

These climbing palms, with some 600 known species all over the world, have both economic and ecological values.

The global value of bamboo and rattan trade, including domestic trade, has been estimated as US$60 billion by the International Network of Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), while international exports alone were valued at USD 1.7 billion in 2017 according to the United Nations International Trade Statistics Database.

Bamboo and rattan goods are processed into house flooring, panels, and cladding, as well as baskets and other woven items.

Souvanhpheng explained that if a bigger share of the rattan value chains in the domestic and international markets is captured, this ubiquitous rattan can provide an important source of income for Lao communities.

Proper management is also key to the sustainability of rattan enterprises, he added.

“As rattan grows best under a natural tree cover, it provides an incentive to local communities to protect their local forest from illegal logging, or conversion to other uses like agriculture,” said Souvanhpheng.

Based on the field interviews with members of the communities, among those considered long-term threats to PXT-NPA’s biodiversity are destructive fishing practices, including the use of explosives, along the park’s streams, poaching of pangolins and monitor lizards, and small-scale logging.

To cover basic family needs, ethnic groups living in and around PXT-NPA depend on the natural resources and slash-burn cultivation as well as collecting non-timber forest.

Ecological values

Speaking about its ecological value, Lim said rattan bears fruits that are food for hornbills, primates, and elephants; each of these species serves as seed dispersers for the rattan.

Apart from their significant role in preventing soil displacement, several rattan species also have developed morphological adaptations, making then suitable nesting sites for ant colonies. The ants also “farm” scale insects that feed on the rattan phloem cells secreting sweet honeydew that the ants then feed on. “The loss of rattan species can, therefore, degrade the overall ecosystem services,” Lim said.

PXT-NPA is known as an area of outstanding beauty, breath-taking mountain views, and cultural treasures.Covered mostly by semi-evergreen forest, PXT NPA hosts a large variety of animals and birds, including endangered species.

Khamphoumy Khounlavong, deputy-head of the Lao PDR’s District Agriculture and Forestry Office (DAFO) and BCAMP project coordinator for PXT-NPA, noted that “at least 16 mammal species and 188 bird species in the protected area have been catalogued”. Part of the PXT-NPA, which covers 367 sq km, has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Endangered bird species in the IBA include the green peafowl, the grey-headed parakeet, and the red-collared woodpecker.

According to Lim, the management plan of PXT-NPA may serve as a guide for future interventions coming from government agencies and conservation organizations, particularly on capacity and livelihood development in the communities and other measures that promote effective use and management of natural resources.

Photos courtesy of Oulathong V.Viengkham (AFC) and Khamphomy Khounlavong (Lakonpheng District Agriculture and Forestry Office)

Source: Lao News Agency