Lao NA queries govt plan to return forest cover to 70%

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The National Assembly has queried the government’s plan to return the country’s forest cover to 70 per cent by 2020 after observing a huge loss of forested areas over past decades.   

Large trees have been felled and protected areas intruded upon and destroyed as a result of development projects, illegal logging and slash and burn cultivation.

This concern was raised for debate at the NA session on Monday after Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Lien Thikeo reported the government’s plan to return greenery to the nation.

Dr Lien said his ministry identifiel 15.9 million hectares of forestry areas including areas of planted trees, representing 67.2 percent of the country’s terrain.

“To return our forestry cover to 70 percent or 16.5 million hectares by 2020, we need to continue to identifyl more forestry areas to achieve the goal set by the government,” he said. 

Nevertheless, NA members were sceptical about the government’s figure and asked the minister to clarify the different criteria and conditions for forestry coverage.

NA member for Vientiane, Mr Saythong Keodouangdy told the NA session on Monday that “When I was travelling by plane, and I looked at our forests from above and saw bald mountains. When I travelled by car, I saw some trees along the roadside, but inside the forests, there were less big trees.”   

Mr Saythong said Phou Phanang Protected Area has been encroached upon and destroyed with large trees felled by illegal logging.

“I want the ministry to tell us the area of trees planted over the last 20 years as well as the figure of the planted trees surviving, so we have a better understanding about the achievements of this sector,” he said.

President of the NA’s Economics, Technology and Environment Committee, Mr Bounpone Sisoulath reported on the NA’s inspection regarding the implementation of the government’s reforestation plan.

“We planted a lot of trees, but the percentage of those trees surviving was not as high as we expected,” he said.

Mr Bounpone said the government was able to rehabilitate only 3.22 million hectares of deteriorated forest areas, accounting for 54 percent of the plan.

Additionally, trees have been planted over an area of almost 500,000 hectares, representing 97 percent of the plan.

Funding disbursed for development of the forestry sector has tended to decline. The budget allocated from the sale of the government’s timber to be disbursed for the rehabilitation of deteriorated forests and tree plantation projects fell short of the target.

Based on contracts signed between the government and developers, concession projects need to rehabilitate and re-plant trees to offset forestry loss as a result of the projects.

From 2013-2018, eight projects were obliged to spend US$12.11 million on tree planting and rehabilitation of deteriorated forests over an area of 18,000 hectares. But until now, only one project has been implemented.

The NA called for the government to enforce the forestry law to ensure that development projects followed agreements signed with the government to replant trees to offset the loss of forest areas. 

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