Lao PDR has a diverse topography extending from the floodplains of the Mekong River to the highland areas in the north and east. Wetlands extend across the full range of these environments including the Mekong River, its 14 main tributaries, and more than 100 branches and streams. Most of the water flowing into the Mekong Basin originates in Lao PDR; 35% of total flow in the dry season and up to 80% in the wet season About one quarter of the country is considered lowland, consisting mainly of floodplains and rain-fed rice paddies. Aquatic resources are a central element in the livelihoods of Lao people, especially the poor. Snails, frogs, rice and bamboo are wetland resources upon which the poor are highly dependent and yet there is little information and almost no official government statistics on their status.
In Lao PDR there is no one policy that relates to wetlands. Instead, there are numerous policies that refer to various aspects of the use and management of wetlands and related resources. Such policies generally exhibit two central features. The first is the explicit links between development, conservation, and poverty alleviation. The second is the constitutional right of access to natural resources by the Lao people and state, and their obligation to protect and use these resources sustain ably.
A number of government organizations are involved in the management of wetland resources, and there is no formal framework for the coordinated management of wetlands in Lao PDR. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has overall responsibility for the management of wetland resources, including agriculture and conservation, while other ministries have interests in wetlands as they relate to transport, construction, or electricity production. This distribution of responsibilities and interests highlights the division between agencies responsible for sustainable management of wetlands and those responsible for extractive uses.
The Lao PDR government recognizes the importance of international cooperation in environmental protection and is a signatory to a number of environmental agreements, including the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The government is currently deliberating whether or not to become a signatory to the Ramsar Convention. The main difficulty in ratifying that Convention stems from the perception that Ramsar is primarily focused on the preservation of wetland resources through the exclusion of resource users, which comes into conflict with the Lao PDR constitutional right of access to natural resources.
The challenge for wetlands management in Lao PDR is to move discussion beyond ‘conservation’ to an integrated framework that includes livelihoods and ecosystem services. Such a framework should focus on improved governance of wetland resources through the inclusion of multiple perspectives from stakeholders at various geographic scales. Key features of such an approach include better coordination of government activities, and increased support to non-governmental and development organizations so that they can provide technical assistance over wider geographical areas.
The focal area for WAP Activities in Laos are seven provinces in Southern Laos (from Bolikhamsai southwards). This is an expansion of the area in which previous AIT and WorldFish projects worked and where many of the current WWF efforts are focused.
Workplan organization, development and ownership
The work plans subject to an on-going process of review and revision according to the principles of a rolling-planning process to ensure that the WAP program remains adaptive and ready to exploit new opportunities for promoting sustainable management of wetlands and aquatic resources and is actively looking for alternative solutions. The review process for the WAP Program in Laos work to focus on opportunities for better collaboration and effectiveness rather then just implementing a lockstep plan. The structure of a defined set of objectives and outputs (in the Logframe) and a defined set of Activity Groups provides the Lao Program with a clear planning framework in which to operate. It sets the boundaries of what is possible and helps prevent the workplan from becoming a simple checklist of things to be done. It encourages people to review and discuss alternatives and new opportunities and puts into action the key principles of Sida’s Contribution Management.
This workplan has been developed in close consultation with Lao government staff and this initial draft has been endorsed by the Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF). It has been developed as a capacity building program for the management of wetlands and aquatic resources of this Department together with selected provinces. WAP regional partners and their local representatives will assist, facilitate and advise on this capacity building program, but it has not been developed as an AIT or WWF “project”.
Arrangements for implementation, monitoring and backstopping
The focus is on government agencies in southern Laos with complementary capacity building and institution building activities at central level.
Language is an important element in capacity building in Laos. The average government officer has little formal education and English language ability is weak. Whilst there is considerable information available in English language on sustainable wetlands management, it remains largely inaccessible to people at local levels of government. Government salaries are extremely low and most government officers can only afford to work part-time for the government and almost all of them pursue other income generating activities. In this context, many government officers find it difficult to participate in professional development or capacity building activities unless they receive some compensation for their time and other expenses. The more successful models for capacity building in Laos recognize this fact and also provide additional motivation for individuals through personal contact with recognized trainers and mentors who can provide advice and guidance. Sometimes referred to as “on-the-job training”, such personal contact although resource intensive, is essential in Laos not only in terms of motivating individuals, but also to promote a sense of ownership among target staff of the capacity building process. Within what are often very weak supportive institutional environments, motivation and ownership are they key factors for sustaining a capacity building process.
Rules of engagement are such that Lao government authorities can only draw down on the Local Partner Support budget if activities are undertaken in collaboration with a WAP national partner. At the moment, this is AIT and WWF Laos, but this group of institutions will be expanded to include other agencies such as IUCN Lao, SEAFDEC, FAO and NACA (Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific) all who have a field some presence.
Implementation will take a step-by-step approach, which is viewed by the Lao Government and WAP regional partners as an “establishment” phase needed to develop the basic approaches and mechanisms for a collaborative program of capacity building for improved wetlands and aquatic resources development in Laos.
During the consultation for this workplan, it was agreed that WAP Program coordination would be the responsibility of a DLF steering committee set up to coordinate projects and programs related to aquatic resources management in Laos. This was established with assistance from AIT, WorldFish, Network of Aquaculture Centers in Asia-Pacific and Aquatic Animal Health Research Institute of Kasetsart University, Thailand under a previous capacity building program. It is the intention of the DLF and WAP partners to build on this mechanism and expand its membership and scope to include a broader remit for initiatives concerned with wetlands management and not just aquatic resources. IUCN and SEAFDEC have already indicated their willingness to participate in this forum.
The steering committee will meet every 6 months and be chaired by the DLF and efforts will continue to develop mutually agreed standards for reporting and activity proposals as well as standards for reporting and reviewing project finances. Focal activity areas include:
Developing focal area communications
Aquatic Resources Statistics System Development
Legal Framework Case Studies
Wetland Resources and Poverty Mapping
DLF Programming for Sustainable Wetlands Management
Indigenous Aquaculture and Fisheries Management
Wetlands Materials for Awareness Raising and Self-study
Provincial Wetlands Project Coordination and Monitoring
Promotion of National Wetlands Dialogue and Coordination
Provincial Wetland Training Workshops
Volunteer and Placement Scheme for Improved Wetlands Management
Agricultural College In-service training Development
Student Preparation and Mentoring
National University of Laos Curriculum Development
Activities in Laos
- Developing focal area communications
- Aquatic Resources Statistics System Development
- Legal Framework Case Studies
- Wetland Resources and Poverty Mapping
- DLF Programming for Sustainable Wetlands Management
- Indigenous Aquaculture and Fisheries Management
- Wetlands Materials for Awareness Raising and Self-study
- Provincial Wetlands Project Coordination and Monitoring
- Promotion of National Wetlands Dialogue and Coordination
- Provincial Wetland Training Workshops
- Volunteer and Placement Scheme for Improved Wetlands Management
- Agricultural College In-service training Development
- Student Preparation and Mentoring
- National University of Laos Curriculum Development