| Souksakhone Vaenkeo |
VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) – When the late President Kaysone Phomvihane described forests as ‘Laos’ green gold’ likening its value to that of gold, many might not fully grasp how significant forests would be for the country’s future development and prosperity as advised by the national hero.
The value of forests as described by the leader has become clearer and clearer through Laos’ development journey in which forests have been seen as an important factor determining the future success.
Benefitting from the rivers running across the country, the Lao leadership has announced its top priority to pursue the production of clean and affordable hydroelectricity for domestic consumption and export to countries in the region.
Ensuring extensive forest cover will enable Laos to have enough forest resources to generate sufficient water not only to operate hydroelectricity plants, but also to provide enough water to irrigate farms, which the majority of the population rely on for their survival.
The benefits of forests are countless – not to mention their significant role in environmental protection, biodiversity, and the non-timber forest products they generate to feed millions of people. Describing Laos’ forests as ‘green gold’, President Kaysone – one of the founding members of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, who passed away in 1992 – underlined the need to increase forest cover to drive national development.
Launching their campaign to encourage people from all walks of life to plant more trees, reforest and protect existing forests, today’s leaders have often quoted President Kaysone’s ‘green gold’ description to motivate public participation in this effort.
In fact, forests (through commercial logging) have contributed significantly in helping Laos as the country struggled to overcome hardships during the early days following liberation and the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on December 2, 1975.
At a result, Lao forests were overexploited to generate revenue to finance the development activities of the impoverished country, which suffered severely from limited income-generating sources.
Forest cover in Laos sharply declined from 71.6 per cent (17 million hectares) in the 1960s to just 47 per cent (11.1 million hectares) in 1992 – the year the late president passed away.
It decreased further to 40.34 per cent (9.5 million hectares) in 2010.
Amid such decline, President Kaysone said the exploitation of forests had reached an alarming level, saying it was time to take action to protect forests, while engaging in reforestation to increase forest cover nationwide.
A satellite survey conducted in 2015 suggested that forest cover in Laos had increased from 40.34 per cent in 2010 to 58 per cent.
Recognising its important role, the Lao government set a target to increase forest cover to 70 per cent by 2020.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Dr Lien Thikeo told local media last week that this target is ‘achievable’ given that effective measures are being implemented.
Three main measures to achieve this target were identified in the National Forest Strategy that was promulgated in 2005.
These comprise rehabilitating six million hectares of degraded forest to enable it to regrow naturally, planting industrial trees on 500,000 hectares, and protecting existing forests from further logging.