Laos 28 Mar 2014 08:20
Forests are the heart of Long La's development. In a country ravaged by deforestation, this village of 500 inhabitants has become a model of sustainable development. With the help of Speri, a vietnamese NGO, Long La has found a way to preserve its forest thanks to agroecology.
The forest is rich in medicinal plants and rare species and generates wealth for the community. Prior to 2004, it was threatened by timber exploitation. But its inhabitants soon realized that the water shortages they were facing were not normal and that the air was drier than it should have been in this tropical region.
It did not take long before they began to blame deforestation, which also adversely affects agricultural production. Today, forests cover 40% of the territory of Laos, whereas they made up 70% in the 1950s. In order to protect their forest, villagers in Long La reserved certain areas for the production of timber and others for medicinal plants. In some areas, it is now strictly forbidden to gather wood. They also enacted strict rules to preserve the forest, such as keeping farm animals in paddocks to prevent them from damaging trees.
In 2005, the Laotian government recognized Long La inhabitants' know-how and put them in charge of managing the village's forest. Doing so came naturally to the inhabitants since they all belong to the Hmong community, an animist ethnic group that considers the forest sacred. In Long La, the forest is even believed to host a venerated spirit: the Patongxenh.
Deforestation is being driven by corruption as well as poorly managed industrial-scale plantations for things like rubber. Yet Long La's management of the forest has proven that preservation can lead to development and wealth. Thanks to the forest, the village now cultivates Zong Zwa, a plant with bright yellow flowers that tastes similar to rocca. The village also produces 12 tons of organic vegetables each year which they sell to hotels and restaurants in Luang Prabang. Speri now works with 12 other villages to implement Long La's model. In 2012, the NGO and the villagers created a rural school to train local residents in agroecology.