Between 1940 and 2010, forest cover in Laos decreased by roughly 30%, putting both people and wildlife in danger. The CAL contains a number of rural districts including Kaleum, Ta-Oi, and Samoui, where WWF-Laos partners with local community members and local government, restoring and protecting high conservation value rain forest areas. The communities involved in the project are made up of some of Laos’s ethnic minority groups living in areas where almost all livelihoods are made from the forest’s natural resources. Illegal logging and forest conversion for unsustainable agriculture has threatened these livelihoods. “Nowadays, we have to go farther away to collect non-timber forest products or fish because we can hardly get them near our village,” a local community member says.
Khampanh Keovilaysak, who leads community engagement for WWF-Laos's work in the CAL, spoke with staff and community members in the field about their efforts to restore the forest. One WWF field staffer says, “Forests are a part of villagers’ livelihoods; they have depended on forests for everyday life for generations. The forest is their home, market, and hospital.”
To begin to build back a dwindling forest, mitigate the negative impacts of deforestation, and ensure that forest-dependent communities' sustainably benefit from natural resources, WWF-Laos started the Community-Based Forest Restoration and Management for Livelihood Project, in partnership with WWF-Finland. The project, which prioritizes human rights-based conservation, started in 2018 and is now in its final year. To put sustainable forest management back into the hands of the people who rely on the forest directly, the program focuses on knowledge sharing and the distribution of both financial benefits and technical training to local communities through native tree planting.
At the project’s first restoration event in 2019, over 3,000 native tree seedlings were planted. Now, after another planting in July 2021, nearly 100 acres of the forest is supported by 30,000 new trees and protected by the local people. The seedlings are typically planted in important watershed areas to enhance healthy water supply for the nearly 2,500 people this project impacts. Communities that grow seedlings say that having sufficient water is an essential factor for producing healthy trees.