Rush for cash crops and forest protection: neither land sparing nor land sharing
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In many countries with large tracts of tropical forests, there is a dual focus on enhancing forest protection and increasing commercial agriculture for economic development. Laos is a case in point for this development as the Government of Laos (GoL) has a strong commitment to economic growth, which rural farmers in part help realize through a rush for cash crop production destined to be sold in neighboring countries. Maize cultivation, for example, is rapidly expanding and grown under a contract-farming system for Vietnamese markets. At the same time, GoL attempts to increase nationwide forest cover and prepares for REDD+ (reducing deforestation and forest degradation). This paper explores how the recent boom in cash crops is impacting land use and livelihoods of local communities, as well as affecting forest conservation in Hua Meuang District of Huaphan Province in northeastern Laos. We also examine how local authorities react to these changes and navigate the contradicting policies. Furthermore, the paper analyzes to what extent the land sparing intention of land- and forest-land allocation policies are fulfilled. We found that the production of maize has rapidly expanded in Hua Meuang District since the mid-2000s as a result of high demands for maize in Vietnam and because local authorities see the crop as a way to reduce rural poverty and reduce traditional subsistence shifting cultivation practices. Communities have increased the areas that they dedicate to maize cultivation and have achieved an increase in both income and household assets. Maize has replaced upland rice cultivation as well as primary and secondary forests. Although the government policies aim to spare land for forest conservation by intensifying agriculture, the result is rapid agricultural expansion and no spared forest. Moreover, the traditional land-sharing landscapes with forest, fallows, and fields are being transformed, creating landscapes that are increasingly dominated by agriculture. This may still be in line with economic development policies, but it is at odds with forest conservation policies, REDD+ policies, and the GoL target of increasing forest cover in the country.
|Journal||Land Use Policy|
|Number of pages||11|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Sep 2016|
- Cash crops, Land-use change, Laos, Policy, REDD+, Shifting cultivation