In the teak farms around Luang Prabang, what wasonce considered waste wood is now finding its way to eco-friendly markets on the other side of the world. The increased earnings are a good thing for Lao farmer Kao Sisompou, who has a grandchild on the way and school fees to pay.

“Now we can sell even small logs to international markets,” says Sisompou, head of the Kok Ngiew village Teak Farmers Group. “And we know how to measure and price our logs, so the local traders don’t even come to our village anymore because they know that we won’t accept their low prices.”

As one of the few remaining patches of natural forest in the world’s largest timber manufacturing region, the small landlocked country of Lao PDR is starting to realize the benefits of responsible forestry. One by one, the country’s neighbors are developing and responding to tough new standards that require a clear, legal trail for timber products – from the forest to finished tables and door frames. In this new environment, responsible forestry and trade could stimulate economic development in one of Asia’s poorest countries, while sustaining its forests for future generations.

Since 2008, the Responsible Asia Forestry and Trade (RAFT) program has been working with government, industry and communities to position Lao PDR as both a leader and beneficiary in an emerging regional shift toward sustainability. This includes: clearer regulations and a better ability to implement them; new links between responsible producers, manufacturers and buyers through certification; and increased benefits to the people who work the forest.