It is often the case that local communities, due to a variety of factors, are not provided with the necessary resources and information to benefit from the latest economic trends in forestry. It is therefore imperative that organizations provide capacity development support to these stakeholders. This is particularly the case in northern Lao PDR, where smallholder teak plantations have multiplied in recent years—a trend driven by their income-producing potential—and where RECOFTC – The Centre for People and Forests has been developing an initiative under the RAFT Program.
Currently, teak woodlots and agroforestry systems represent approximately 11% of the planted forest area, and 42% of the plantation timber resource (World Bank 2017). Teak timber is indeed a valuable commodity for the country’s processing sector and global markets, especially for those in neighboring countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam. While revenues from teak provide an attractive source of supplementary income for smallholders and their families, farmer owned and community based enterprises capable of harvesting and processing teak, may also have a strong role in contributing to the achievement of important national policy goals (such as generating rural employment, increasing farm income and supplying timber to the processing sector).
However, challenges persist as farmers and smallholders tend to invest little in improving the value of their teak plantations, and often lack the necessary technical skills, and the regulatory requirements designed to protect natural forests and put in place sustainable forest management practices. To respond to these challenges, since 2016 and under the RAFT Program, RECOFTC has been working to improve the livelihoods of communities and smallholders in Bokeo province by developing and strengthening their knowledge and skills on teak certification and management, as well as establishing stronger collaborations with the private sector, sawmill owners and timber trader through the production of finger jointed teak. Strengthening collaboration with the private sector has been influential in increasing local income and has subsequently helped to support the teak plantation itself. This is largely because prior to RECOFTC and the RAFT project involvement, many of the farmers simply kept their trees or sold it to a middleman at lower value. They did , not know there was a suitable market or the possibility of linking to sawmills to upkeep the teak’s original value. As a result, the total value of teak timber sold to the sawmill is now up to 586,058 Thai Baht (or approximately 18, 314.41 USD), which provides income to 27 teak owners in three villages.
Additionally, a teak mapping framework for Bokeo was developed in order to help communities make well-informed choices when it comes to teak management, planning and investment. GIS and Remote Sensing for mapping and monitoring teak plantations skills were also taught to provincial forestry officials.
“Before our training program, local communities were not aware of the benefits of forest and plantation management, including thinning and harvesting processes. They also ignored the market demand and had no ties with sawmills,” reported the RECOFTC team.
After the training program, smallholders have realized the relevance of greater bargaining power when dealing with sawmills and reaching fair negotiations to ensure the sustainability of their teak businesses and family income.