Forest Conversion for Commercial Agriculture and Associated Exports
In Laos, conversion of forests for agricultural plantations is acknowledged as the primary driver of deforestation. Permits covering at least 1.1 Mha—five percent of the country’s land area—have been issued. More than a third of the allocated area is forested (Schönweger et al. 2012), and rubber plantations are estimated to account for 34 percent of this land (Global Witness 2013).
Illegalities in Conversion
Licenses issued for agricultural plantations in Laos have involved numerous breaches of regulations. The law states that only degraded forests may be allocated for agriculture, yet many plantation licenses have been issued for areas of intact forest. Many of the companies involved in developing new rubber plantations of dubious legality in Laos are registered in Vietnam.
A study published in 2012 sought to provide an holistic view of the extent and nature of land investments in Laos, which is notoriously opaque. It noted that due to a lack of government capacity and weak mechanisms for approving and monitoring the leasing of state land, “investing companies and individuals have been able to violate the approval process as well as the conditions agreed to upon approval”. These violations led to “grave” social, environmental and economic impacts, and a loss of state revenue (CDE 2012). Case studies included in the study highlighted the following weaknesses:
- In 2006 a Chinese-based rubber company was granted a 214 ha concession by a provincial government, but the map accompanied with the contract for the concession covered an area more than ten times that size. As a consequence the company cleared beyond its legally contracted area.
A concession area was granted to the Ra-farm Development Company, Ltd. (a Chinese investor) in Vientiane Province. An inventory team only later observed that the land allocated to the company was originally healthy forest, and large trees within the concession were cut or burned.
Concessions were issued for several projects inside the Donghuasao National Protected Area in Champasack Province. The rubber plantation area for Pavina Coffee Company Ltd. was found to extend into the NPA by an area of 318 ha. The rubber plantation area of Chaleurn SCF Company Ltd., overlapped with the NPA by a total area of 121 ha. The rubber plantation of Dakluck Rubber Company, was found lying within the buffer zone of the NPA.
A World Bank study in 2011 noted that “serious concerns” had been raised over the governments’ process for awarding land concessions, including within government. The study cited a 2009 review of land concessions in one province by the government, which found that the legal status of many concession was questionable. Several concessions were found to have violated contract laws with serious social and environmental consequences. (World Bank 2011)
CDE. 2012. “Concessions and Leases in the Lao PDR: Taking Stock of Land Investments”
This summary was last updated in September 2016. For more recent information, please see individual news stories.