ASEAN Heritage Parks in 35 years: Communities in Lao PDR’s Nam Ha National Protected Area earn from bamboo, ecotourism
Before becoming a bamboo producer, Thongkan Dethvongsa used to be an upland farmer. To cultivate the land and earn a living, he would do slash-and-burn farming, a practice widely regarded as ecologically destructive.
Dethvongsa, along with other residents of the villages in the Nam Ha National Protected Area (NPA), has been convinced to shun practices that are destructive to the environment and shift to bamboo furniture and handicrafts production instead.
Nam Ha NPa is Lao PDR’s lone ASEAN Heritage Park, one of the region’s protected areas of high conservation importance, showcasing wealthy ecosystems that are uniquely ASEAN.
Located in Luang Namtha province in northern Lao PDR, Nam Ha NPA has an abundant bamboo forest resources, apart from the thousands of plant species in the park used by locals for medicine and other purposes.
Apart from being a home to ethnic groups, the park, which straddles five districts and covers 2,224 square kilometres, hosts diverse animal species, such as clouded leopard and tiger; gaur and an unidentified species of muntjac; a small population of Asian elephants; and the black-cheeked crested gibbon, one of the rarest and endangered gibbon species.
Nam Ha NPA was designated an ASEAN Heritage Park for its high conservation value in 2003. It is the fourth largest national protected area in the country and the fourth largest protected area in the northern Indochina subtropical forest zone.
Shifting cultivation population growth, livestock production, infrastructure development, harvest of non-timber forest products, and wildlife for food and profit remain as threats to the park’s resources.
Under the Biodiversity-based Products (BBP) project implemented by GFA Consulting Group GmbH for GIZ in cooperation with the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity, four pilot villages living along the buffer zone of the Nam Ha NPA were supported to gain additional income from local biodiversity resources. This was done in line with the goal of the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme of balancing economic development and protecting the national parks and their rich biodiversity.
These four communities are composed of 251 families and have a total population of 1,297.
Community members were trained how to cure bamboos and turn them into furniture and handicrafts for selling in the market.
“If they don’t do the oven drying, the insect will destroy the bamboo,” Dethvongsa said, noting that the process allows the bamboo to last longer.
The villagers were also taught modern designs and other techniques to raise the quality of the products and meet the high market demand. After getting a more stable income, some of them shifted from seasonal fieldwork to continuous production of bamboo furniture.
On 8 February 2019, months before the end of the BBP project, bamboo producer groups of Sin Oudom village in Nam Ha NPA were given One District One Product certification by the Lao government in recognition of the bamboo products’ improved quality.
Cultural and ecological tourism
Ecotourism is another source of livelihood for the communities of Nam Ha NPA. With its spectacular views, caves, and waterfalls, Nam Ha has been cited as an area with high potential for both cultural and ecological tourism.
A community-based ecotourism project was first developed through a collaborative project of the National Tourism Authority of Lao PDR and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
As part of the project, park managers and members of the communities are hired as tour guides or rangers for eco-tours and other activities, which include forest trekking, kayaking, rafting, biking, river trips, and village homestays.
The park’s ecotourism has greatly contributed to the conservation of Nam Ha, making this ASEAN Heritage Park a model for ecotourism development in Lao PDR.
Wildlife of Tasek Merimbun Heritage Park
35 Years of ASEAN Heritage Parks
On the 35th Anniversary of the ASEAN Heritage Parks Programme, Nam Ha NPA plays a significant role as Lao PDR plays host to the Sixth ASEAN Heritage Parks Conference (AHP6) on 21–24 October 2019 in Pakse. The park’s accomplishments and best practices through the BBP and ecotourism projects are among the highlights of the conference.
With theme “Sustainability and Innovation for Parks and People—Celebrating 35 years of ASEAN Heritage Parks,” AHP6 will gather protected area managers, representatives from international environmental organisations, businesses, academe, traditional and local communities, and youth to discuss knowledge and best practices in managing protected areas.
Organised by the ACB and the Government of Lao PDR through the Department of Forestry, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, with support from the European Union (EU), the German Development Cooperation through the KfW, German development agency GIZ, SwedBio, Convention on Biological Diversity, and Japan Biodiversity Fund, the conference aims to improve the AHP network and strengthen camaraderie among AHP stakeholders and other development partners.
AHP6 will feature the ASEAN-EU Policy Dialogue on Protected Areas and Wildlife and parallel sessions on accelerating progress on Aichi Biodiversity Target 11; species and wildlife conservation; innovative financing; business and biodiversity; women, youth, and indigenous peoples and local communities; sustainable livelihood and biodiversity-based products; and ecosystem-based solutions.