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Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008


Restoring forests in Laos aim of NGO

Staff writer

Third in a series

News photo
View from above: Poring over a map, women in Natan Village, Laos, discuss forest conditions in June. COURTESY OF JAPAN VOLUNTEER CENTER

Roughly the same size as Japan, Laos boasted vast tropical forests until the 1960s.

Widespread logging for export brought in an era of deforestation as the heavily indebted government sought to cover the costs of civil wars that had ravaged the country and the rebuilding of infrastructure amid the chaos during and after it won its independence from France in the mid-1970s.

The nongovernmental organization Japan Volunteer Center, which provides humanitarian aid to 10 developing countries, including Laos, has been engaged in activities to restore forests and enhance the lives of farmers and other people in Laos since 1989.

JVC's reforestation activities have so far focused primarily on central Laos, including Khammouane Province. The group trains forest-observation volunteers and helps farmers breed products such as a type of wisteria that is edible and can be used in crafts.

The organization received ¥178,119 from The Japan Times Readers' Fund this year. The newspaper is currently soliciting donations from readers to award to volunteer organizations.

"The proceedings from The Japan Times were very helpful. We spent them on activities such as holding a meeting to train volunteers conserving forests," JVC spokeswoman Chiho Kawai said.

Deforestation in Laos has accelerated in recent years. In addition to the debts that prompted the government to cut trees, many farmers burn off forests to create rice paddies and other crops to make a living.

Forests accounted for 68 percent of Laos' land in the 1960s, but the ratio had fallen to 47 percent in 1992 and 41.5 percent in 1997, according to JVC, which cited a Laotian government study.

JVC, which has regularly stationed two Japanese in Laos since 1989, helps the government provide villages with forest ownership in line with the state Land Forest Allocation Program, by surveying the land and helping draw up village borders. JVC also lobbies Vientiane about problems that arise in villages and ensures the government and villages work together to manage forests.

"Locals there are not used to the idea of looking after and taking responsibility for forests. We are supporting them on that front," Kawai said.

On projects that enhance livelihoods, JVC provides technology and support to grow rice and fruit, helps set up "rice banks" that lend rice in poor harvest years and secures water for agriculture. JVC started similar activities in Savanakhet Province, adjacent to Khammouane Province, on Sept. 16. It plans to finish them on March 31.

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