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Thaphabath villagers: forest conservation for sustainable income
Over the last 10 years, villagers in Thaphabath district, Borikhamxay province have changed into guardians of sustainable forest conservation through the planting of Mai tiew (cratexylon prunifolium) trees.

Soldiers in Pakngum district, Vientiane join with Lao BKN Company to plant Mai tiew to increase forest cover and earn income for the army.

After breakfast, villagers in the Huay Leurk community carry some garden equipment and walk into their mai tiew forest to observe how they are growing.
Uncle Khunta, 70, smiles and wipes sweat from his brow before recounted how in 2007 he and other villagers attended a mai tiew plantation project meeting that was supported by the Lao BKN Company, a white charcoal producer.
Project has changed him and other villagers from forest harvesters into trees protectors.
“I often didn’t have a permanent job; I just walked into forest to look for various kinds of wild herbs to sell for income but that is not the way for having a sustainable income,” he explained as the project advised him.
Uncle Khunta also observed 15 years ago; wild herbs in his community were reducing in number and some days they were hard to find.
“I am lucky that I have land near the forest which I used to join the Mai tiew plantation project,” the elderly man said.
The project provided him with Mai tiew seedlings and he just spends some time in the morning to take care of and protect them as they grow up. When ready they are cut and sold directly to Lao BKN Company.
So far, uncle Khunta has planted five hectares of Mai tiew which he believes will help him to have an enough income to support family members for the long-term.
“This year, I and two of my sons watched Mai tiew growing like booming flowers until they were ready to sell to the company,” uncle Khunta added.
Meanwhile, Ms Chanpheng’s family recently received one million kip as a model family for taking care of mai tiew for the company over five years. Attending to the Mai tiew will allow them to supplement their main income from rice farming.
“I still can take care of mai tiew in my garden near the community forest as well as planting rice in the rainy season,” Ms Chanpheng explained.
Each year, Chanpheng has been earning income from selling her rice, but this year, she is waiting for the Mai tiew  to grow up after spending four years tending to them.
However, she is concerned that prices might fall as more Mai tiew growers supply the white charcoal industry.
Director of Lao BKN Company, Mr Bounoum Phanthapanya reported recently the company currently has 85 families working on 525 hectares of land in the Thaphabath district.
In 2007-2008, locals of Thaphabath village began growing, protecting and maintaining mai tiew, a subspecies of the pink mempat, with only seven families joining the project in the beginning.
Since then, the company programme has expanded to the capital as well as Savannakhet, Saravan and Vientiane provinces.
The company has also continued cooperation with soldiers in Pakngum district, Vientiane in planting and taking caring of mai tiew which will help ensure a sustainable while charcoal industry for export and also income for the army.
Each year the company provides funds for mai tiew farmers and their families to promote the sustainability of the project and increase forest growth, following the government’s strategy to increase forest cover to 70 percent by 2020.
Presently, under the Mai tiew project, the company has encouraged local residents to grow or restore Mai tiew trees on more than 1,331 hectares across the country under a so-called two-plus-three policy.
The two-plus-three policy is a government initiative which encourages investors and land owners to partner up and develop projects such as industrial tree plantations.
Fundamental to the policy is a framework where farmers must provide land and labour while investors provide the funds, technical support and a ready market for the product.
Mr Bounoum added that planting mai tiew trees also helped locals to earn a sustainable income because they are able to then sell them directly to the company, which processes the white charcoal.
The Lao BKN Company exports around 1,200 tonnes of white charcoal to Japan every year.

By Times Reporters
(Latest Update June 23, 2017)


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