Biodiversity Country Report


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Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Peace Independence Democracy Unity Prosperity

Biodiversity Country Report

Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry (MAF)
Science Technology and Environment Agency (STEA)


Vientiane, September 2003

Published by: Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF)

Science, Technology and Environment Agency (STEA)
Copyright: (2003) Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Science, Technology and Environment Agency, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Reproduction of this publication and its annexes for educational and other non-commercial
purposes is authorised without prior written permission from the copyright holders provided the
source is fully acknowledged.
Reproduction of this publication and its Annexes for resale or other commercial purposes is
prohibited without prior written permission of the copyright holders.
Prepared by: The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan Project
(Lao/98/012) prepared this non-technical document
Funded by: The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and
The United Nations Development Programme
Compiled by: Bouaphan Phantavong, Sivannavong Savattvong, Valdemar Holmgren, G?nther Meyer
Editors: Valdemar Holmgren, Sivannavong Savathvong , Trond Kvitvik, Katariina Vainio-Mattila, G?nther
Meyer, Thomas Redl
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) do not necessarily represent
those of United Nations Development Programme in the Lao PDR
Layout by: Singsavanh Singkavongxay
Photographs by: Kees Metselaar / UNDP, WWF, IUCN


The Government of the Lao PDR acceded the International Convention on Biological Diversity
(CBD) - also known as the Rio Convention - in the year 1996 and committed itself as part of its
obligations as party (signatory), to developing a Biodiversity Country Report and a National
Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.
The Biodiversity Country Report (BCR) is the first output of the National Biodiversity Strategy and
Action Plan (NBSAP) Project, implemented and managed jointly by the National Science, Technology
and Environment Agency (STEA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) with support
from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The Danish Government finances the project
through a grant, which is supplemented by funds made available from UNDP.
The BCR comes at a time, when the Government of the Lao PDR is working towards poverty
eradication and sustainable development. In the given context of the Lao PDR’s, the sustainable use of
natural resources - and in particular the county’s rich biodiversity - may be one of the keys to poverty
reduction. The country’s economy lagely depends on natural resources. Estimates have been made that
biological diversity is the main source of wealth for the country. Maintaining the productivity of these
important resources constitutes the true value of biodiversity and remains central to any national
development strategy.
The BCR supports attempts to establish the true value of biodiversity. Once the value of biodiversity is
recognised and acknowledged, strategies can be designed for its sustainable management. A better
understanding of the concept of biodiversity enables the people of the Lao PDR to develop such
strategies. Without well - planned strategies, the Lao PDR risks losing valuable parts ot this resource
through careless destruction.
The BCR seeks to provide an overview of existing data and information on the Lao PDR’s biodiversity
based on a review of the currently available literature. With this objective in mind, eleven working
groups of national specialists from various ministries and institutes selected and reviewed more than 100
background documents to compile specific subject reports. Their written contributions form the basis of
the BCR. The findings, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations expressed were then
discussed extensively among stakeholders prior to compiling the final BCR and submitting it to the
National Biodiversity Steering Committee (NBSC) for endorsement. The BCR therefore represents a
truly national document, paving the way for the development of the National Biodiversity Strategy and
Action Plan (NBSAP).

Vientiane, September, 2003

for : Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for : Scien Technology and Environment

Signed and Seal Signed and Seal


Ensuring environmental sustainability is one of the Millennium Development Goals, agreed to by this
and in fact, all other countries in the world at the millennium summit held in New York in 2000. The
Lao government UNDP share a long history of cooperation in environment-related development issues.
The Lao PDR also signed the international Biodiversity Convention in 1996. Conservation, sustainable
use of and equitable access to natural resources are the Convention`s most important pillars.
Lao PDR has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, owing to the varied climate, topography and soils. The
country is heavily dependent on its biological resources to sustain the economy and human welfare.
Eighty-threc percent of the Lao population live in rural areas. Most of them rely heavily on forest
products for their food and survival. Wild meat and fish are the most important sources of protein for
rural diets. About 66 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, 42 percent of export and foreign exchange
carnings and 85 percent of labour is directly attributable to or reliant on biodiversity based sectors.
So taking care of the environment and biodiversity isn`t something that we do because we like green
vistas and fluffy animals. The environment is directly related to development and poverty. Natural
resources are the backbone of the national economy and often the culture as well. A healthy
environment is central topoverty eradication and, as we have seen demonstrated time and time again all
over the world, an unhealthy environment causes poverty and lowers the standard of living for eveyone.
UNDP and DANIDA have supported the Lao government for more than two years to develop this first
Biodiversity Country Report. I am pleased to say that the process was a collaborative one, promoting
national ownership that hopefully will pave the way for successful implementation of the National
Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.
I hope that this report will spark interesting discussions across the country as to the role of the
environment in poverty and subsequently - the role of government in protecting the resources that poor
people depend on.

Vientiane, December 2004

Finn Reske-Nielsen
Resident Representative


ADB Asian Development Bank
ASEAN Association of South East Asian Nations
BCP Biodiversity Conservation Project
BCR Biodiversity Country Report
CBA Cost-Benefit Analysis
CBD Convention on Biological Diversity
CF Conservation Forest
COP Conference of Parties
CPAWM Centre for Protected Areas and Watershed
CPC Committee for Planning and Cooperation
CUZ Controlled Use Zone
DAFO District Agriculture and Forestry Office
DANIDA Danish International Development Agency
DFRC Division of Forest Resources Conservation (MAF)
DIC Department for International Cooperation
DoE Department of Environment (STEA)
DoF Department of Forestry (MAF)
EIA Environmental Impact Assessment
ERI Environmental Research Institute (STEA)
ESCAP Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the
EU European Union
FAO Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United
FINNIDA Finnish International Development Agency
FOMACOP Forest Management and Conservation Project
GDP Gross Domestic Product
GEF Global Environment Facility
GIS Geographical Information System
GMS Greater Mekong Sub-region
GNP Gross National Product
GoL Government of the Lao PDR
GRID Gender Research Information and Development Center
GSD Geological Survey Department
GTZ Deutsche Gesellschaft f?r Technische
HRD Human Resource Development
ICAD Integrated Conservation and Development
IFAD International Fund for Agricultural Development
IMF International Monetary Fund
IRRI International Rice Research Institute
IUCN The World Conservation Union
JICA Japanese International Cooperation Agency
JBIC Japanese Bank for International Cooperation
LA Land Allocation
Lao PDR The Lao People’s Democratic Republic
LARReC Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre
LDC Least Developed Country
LFNC Lao Front for National Construction
LNMC Lao National Mekong Committee
LSFP Lao-Swedish Forestry Programme
LUP Land Use Planning
MAF Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry
MCTPC Ministry of Communications, Transport, Post and
MEA Multilateral Environmental Agreement
MIC Ministry of Information and Culture
MIH Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts
MoFi Ministry of Finance
MRC Mekong River Commission
NAFRI National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute
NBCA National Biodiversity Conservation Area
NBSAP National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
NSEDP National Socio-Economic Development Plan
NEAP National Environmental Action Plan
NES National Environment Strategy
NHDR National Human Development Report
NGO Non Governmental Organization
NOFIP National Office of Forest Inventory and Planning
NPA National Protected Area
NPEP National Poverty Eradication Programme
NTA National Tourism Authority of the Lao PDR
NTFP Non-Timber Forest Product
NUOL National University of Laos
ODA Official Development Assistance
PA Protected Area
PAFO Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Offices
PFO Provincial Forestry Office
PIP Public Investment Programme
PM Participatory Management
PMO Prime Minister’s Office
PPA Participatory Poverty Assessment
PRA Participatory Rural Assessment
PTO Provincial Tourism Office
RAMSAR The Convention on Wetlands
Sida Swedish International Development Cooperation
SEA South-East Asia
SEM Strengthening Environmental Management Project
SNV Netherlands Development Organisation
SPC State Planning Committee
STEA Science, Technology and Environment Agency
SUNV Collaboration between the Netherlands
Development Organization SNV and United
Nations Volunteers
TA Technical assistance
TPZ Totally Protected Zone (of an NBCA)
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme
UNESCO United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization
UNV United Nations Volunteers
UXO Unexploded Ordinance
WB The World Bank
WFP World Food Programme
WCMC World Conservation Monitoring Centre
WCPA World Commission on Protected Areas
WCS Wildlife Conservation Society
WHC World Heritage Convention
WTO World Tourism Organization
WWF Worldwide Fund for Nature


Alien ( non - active, non
indigenous, foreign, exotic )
A species, subspecies, or lower taxon occurring in an area outside its known natural
range as a result of intentional or accidental dispersal by human activities (including
exotic organisms, genetically modified organisms and translocated species).
Biological diversity
The variety of life forms: the different plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes
they contain, and the ecosystem they form. It is usually considered at three levels:
genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.
A species that is sensitive to, and shows measurable responses to, changes in the
environment, such as changes in pollution levels.
A territory defined by a combination of biological, social and geographic criteria rather
than by geopolitical considerations; generally, a system of related, interconnected
Biosecurity threats
Matters or activities which, individually or collectively, may constitute a biological risk to
the ecological welfare or to the well-being of humans, animals or plants of a country.
All of the organisms at a particular locality
Close management
Techniques to assist the re-introduction and establishment of viable population of a
species into its natural habitat; for example artificial nesting boxes.
The protection, maintenance, sustainable use, restoration and enhancement of the
natural environment
Ecologically sustainable use
The use of a species or ecoregion within the capacity of the species, ecosystem and
bioregion for renewal or regeneration.
A dynamic complex of plant, animal, fungal and microorganism communities and the
associated non-living environment interacting as as ecological unit.
Restricted to a specific region or locality.
Exotic species
see Alien species.
Ex-situ conservation
Conservation of species outside their natural habitat; for example, in zoos, botanic
gardens and seed banks.
The functional unit of heredity; part of the DNA molecule that encodes a single enzyme
or structural protein unit.
Genetic material
All part of the DNA of a genome or all or part of an organism resulting from expression
of the genome.
Genetic products
Identifiable chemical compounds from extracts, distillates, secretions and exudates of
biological material that result from the expression of a gene, or a set of genes
governing a metabolic pathway, within an organism.
Using this definition, wood is a genetic material and any chemicals extracted from wood
or trees (for example, a pharmaceutical chemical from bark, such as taxol or rubber)
are genetic products
Genetically engineered
Organisms whose genetic make-up has been altered by the insertion or deletion of
small fragments of DNA I order to create or enhance desirable characteristics from the
same or another species.
The total genetic complement of the cell(s) of organisms - in eukaryotic cells, all the
genes contained in a single set of chromosomes, and extra-nuclear DNA; in prokaryotic
cells, circular DNA molecule(s) and any plasmids; in viruses, the RNA or DNA
combined with the viral protein coat.
The genetic material that carries the inherited characteristics of an organism.
The place or type of site in which an organism naturally occurs.
Indicator species
A species whose presence or absence is indicative of a particular habitat, community
or set of environmental conditions.
In-situ conservation
Conserving species within their natural habitat.
The movement, by human agency, of a species, subspecies, or lower taxon (including
any part, gametes or propagule that might survive and subsequently reproduce)
outside its natural range (past or present). This movement can be either within a
country or between countries.
Introduced species
see Alien species.
invasive species
An alien species, which colonizes natural or semi-natural ecosystems, is an agent of
change, and threatens native biodiversity.
Species of elevated conservation concern.
Management for biological
Taking action aimed at the maintenance of biological diversity
and the environment, including protection, intervention and non-intervention
Minimum viable population
The minimum number of individuals of a species in a given locality that could be
expected to survive in the long-term.
Native(indigenous) species
A species, subspecies, or lower taxon, occurring within its natural range (past or
present) and dispersal potential (i.e. within the range it occupies naturally or could
occupy without direct or indirect introduction or care by humans.
Native vegetation
Any local indigenous plant community containing throughout its growth the complement
of native species and habitats normally associated with that vegetation type or having
the potential to develop these characteristics. It includes vegetation with these
characteristics that has been regenerated with human assistance following disturbance.
It excludes plantation and vegetation that has been established for commercial
Protected area
A protected area is defined in Article 2 of the International Convention on Biological
Diversity as a "geographically defined area which is designated or regulated and
managed to achieve specific conservation objectives"
Protected area management
The world Conservation Union (IUCN) developed a protected area classification
system. IUCN's work, along with that of other relevant organizations, should be
considered in the development of a national classification system.
Protected area system
With regard to the conservation of biological diversity in the Lao PDR,
comprehensiveness, adequacy and representative ness may be defined thus:
Comprehensiveness - the degree to which the full range of ecological
communities and their biological diversity are incorporated within the PA
Adequacy - the ability of the PA system to maintain the ecological integrity and
viability of populations, species and surrounding areas should be taken into
account in determining the PA's ability to meet ecological viability and integrity
criteria. Significant role. In some instance, however, the ecological viability of
the PA itself will be paramount;
Representative ness - the extent to which areas selected for inclusion in the
Pa system are capable of reflecting the known biological diversity and exolgical
patterns and processes of the ecological community or ecosystem concerned.
Reliable information available in the public domain (published work and
circulated unpublished work).
An attempt to establish a species in an area which was once part of its historical
range, but from which it has been extirpated or become extinct.
A group of organisms capable of interbreeding freely with each other but not
with members of other species.
Taxon ( pl.taxa)
The named classification unit to which individuals or sets of species are
assigned, such as species, genus and order.
A species or community that is vulnerable, endangered or presumed extinct.
Translocated species
Native species introduced into suitable habitats within their own country, having
been previously excluded from these habitats by natural barriers.
Naturally slow moving or still, shallow aquatic systems, usually on poorly
drained soils, act as a buffer, absorbing excess water and peak flows, and
releasing them slowly.


The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Science, Technology and Environment Agency acknowledge the
financial and technical assistance rendered by DANIDA and UNDP in the preparation of the Biodiversity Country
Report and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

Vientiane, September 2004
Xayaveth Vixay
National Project Director


Name & Surname Organization
Mr. Sitha Phouyavong
Acting Director General of Cabinet- STEA
Dr. Phouangparisak
Permanent Secretary of Cabinet-MAF
Mr. Vongdara Meungchangh
Deputy of Lao National Mekong Committee
Secretariat -MRCs
Mm. Sirivanh Konthapane
Acting Director General of Economic Research
Institute / CPC
Mr. Onvilay Souriya (Dr. Mi)
Technical staff / MPoH
Ms. Vilaythong Xaymonkhon
Technical staff / CPC
Ms. Khammane
Lao Women Union / LWU
Dr. Sengdeuang Wayakone
Forestry Faculty / NUoL


Name & Surname Organization
Mr.Bounneuang Duangboupha
Ms.Kongpanh Kanyavong
Ms.Chai Bounphanouxay
Mr. Singkham Netphanhla
MAF/Dept of Agriculture


Mr. Som Phasaymongkhoun
Cultural Research Institute/MoIC
Mr. Sainalong Sanasongkham
Cultural Research Institute/MoIC
Khanthamaly Gnangnouvong
National Library


Mr. Somvang Boudthavong
Mr. Lamphoukeo Kettavong
Mr. Soun Manivong
Lao Tourism Authority/MoT
Ms. Lucy Emerton
IUCN - Economist


Mr.Singsavanh Singkavongxay
Mr. Khamla Phanhvilay
Faculty of Forestry/NUL
Ms Bouakeo Phounesavath


Mr. Xaypradeth Choulamany
Mr. Somphanh Phanousith
Mr. Singkham Phomvixay
Department of Livestock/MAF
Bounthong xaphakdy
Department of Livestock/MAF
Bounma Luang Amath
Department of Livestock/MAF
Mr. Khamphet Roger
Department of Livestock/MAF
Somphanh Chanhphengxay
Department of Livestock/MAF

VI. FLORA (Plants) Group

Name & Surname Organization
Dr. Bounhong Soudthavong
Traditional Medicine Research Center
Mr. Sounthone Ketphanh
Mr. Vichit Lamxay
Faculty of Forestry/NUL
Mr. Khamleck Saydara
Faculty of Forestry/ NUL


Mr. Xeme Xamontry


Mr. Sangthong Southammakot
Mr. Khamphanh Douangvilay
Dr. Sengdeuane Vaygnakone
Faculty of Forestry/NUL


Mr. Maikhamvong
Lao Front for National Construction
Mr. Sosonephith Phanouvong
Lao Front for National Construction
Nhiyakeuya Nochochongteoua

Lao Front for National Construction


Mr. Savanh Chanhthakoummane
Ms. Sirivanh Khounthikoummane
Mr. Khamkhoune Khounboline



Mr. Steven Chipani
Mr. Khamlai Sipaseuth

National Tourism Authority


Name & Surname Organization
Mr. Xayaveth Vixay
National Project Director NPD-STEA
Mr. Somsanouk Phommakhoth
Project Manager- STEA
Mr. Bouaphan Phanthavong
Project Co-ordinator-MAF
Mme. Soutdsada Sivilay
Mme. Khamvay Nanthavong
Project Co-ordinator and liaison officer-MAF
Mme. Khamla Phoutharath
Biodiversity Country Report Assistant
Mr. Banethom Thepsombath
NBSAP Assistant
Mr. Guenther Meyer
Planning Advisor
Mr. Joost Foppes
BCR Advisor
Mr. Sivannavong Sawathvong
BCR / NBSAP Assistant
Mr. Trund Kvitvik
Technical Editing
Mr. Valdemar Holmgren
BCR Advisor
Dr. Paul Rogers
Ecotourism Advisor SNV/NTA







2.1 Overview 24
2.2 The people of Lao 25
2.3 Specific features of the Lao PDR 26
2.4 Overview of the Lao PDR economy 29
2.5 Economic structure and composition 30
2.6 Recent economic trends 31
2.7 Current economic strategy 33
2.8 Economic policy links to biodiversity 34

3.1 The regional context 34
3.2 Aspects of human interaction with biodiversity 35
3.2.1 Production systems and poverty 35
3.2.2 Cultural aspects of biodiversity 35

3.3 Ecological systems 42

3.3.1 Ecosystem zoning 43
3.4 Significant ecosystems and habitats of the Lao PDR 47
3.4.1 Lowland forest habitats 48
3.4.2 Montane forest habitats 48
3.4.3 Subtropical broadleaf evergreen forest habitats 49
3.4.4 Forest types 49
3.4.5 Azonal habitats - wetlands 51
3.4.6 Key wildlife habitats of the Lao PDR 51
3.5 Plants of the Lao PDR 54
3.5.1 Plant taxonomy and other studies 54
3.5.2 Non-timber forest products 55
3.5.3 Wild edible and medicinal plants 58
3.5.4 Agricultural plant biodiversity 62
3.6 Animals 64
3.6.1 Invertebrates 64
3.6.2 Amphibians and reptiles 65
3.6.3 Fish 65
3.6.4 Birds 66
3.6.5 Mammals 67

3.6.6 Agricultural animal biodiversity 68
3.7 Trends and causes of change 69
3.7.1 Extinctions in the Lao PDR and priorities for species conservation 69
3.7.2 Endangered species 71
3.7.3 Wildlife trade 73
3.7.4 Local hunting / fishing for consumption 74
3.7.5 Fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitat 75
3.7.6 Pollution and poison 75
3.7.7 Animal / human conflict (depredation of livestock and crops) 75
3.7.8 NTFP collection 75
3.8 Economic factors underlying biodiversity loss 77
3.9 Existing knowledge and gaps 78
3.10 Issues of concern 79
4.1 Policy framework 81
4.2 Biodiversity and sector policies 83
4.2.1 Social equity policy 83
4.2.2 Industry and trade policies 84
4.2.3 Land-use planning policy 85
4.2.4 Agriculture and forestry policies 86
4.2.5 Protected area policies 87
4.2.6 Wildlife and wild plants policies 88
4.2.7 Supportive and promoting policies 89
4.3 Current institutional framework 90
4.3.1 Science, Technology and Environment Agency (STEA) 90
4.3.2 Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (Department of Forestry) 90
4.3.3 Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Offices (Forestry Service) 91
4.3.4 District Agriculture and Forestry Offices 91
4.3.5 Forest Conservation Management Unit 91
4.3.6 Basic units of the organisation at division and forest conservation
management levels 91
4.3.7 Co-ordinating mechanism 92
4.4 Decentralisation aspects 92
4.5 National institution building requirements 93
4.6 Province / district institution building requirements 93
4.7 Weaknesses 93
5.1 Use of agro-biodiversity 94
5.1.1 Indigenous rice varieties 94
5.1.2 Other indigenous crop varieties 95
5.1.3 Livestock production 95
5.2 Use of forest biodiversity 96
5.2.1 Commercial timber exploitation 96
5.2.2 Household wood consumption 98
5.2.3 Woodfuel 98
5.2.4 Household use of non-timber forest products 99
5.2.5 Commercial exploitation of non-timber forest products 99
5.3 Use of aquatic biodiversity 101
5.3.1 Fish and other aquatic animals 101
5.4 Cultural and nature-based tourism 103
5.5 Forest watershed catchment protection services 103
5.6 Forest carbon sequestration services 105
5.7 Wetland pollution control and nutrient cycling services 106
5.8 Other biodiversity and ecosystem services 107
5.9 Option and existence values 107
6 ECONOMIC COSTS OF BIODIVERSITY: Conservation expenditures, losses and damages108

6.1 Direct management costs 108
6.1.1 State budget allocations 108
6.2 Foreign contributions to biodiversity conservation 109
6.3 Opportunity costs 110
6.3.1 Land and resource use opportunities foregone 110
6.3.2 Pest damage to agriculture 111
7 DEVELOPMENT AND BIODIVERSITY – The role of biodiversity in the national economy 111
7.1 Sectoral interactions 112
7.2 Summary of biodiversity economic benefits and costs 113
7.3 Biodiversity in the national economy 114
7.3.1 The dependence of economic activities on biodiversity 114
7.3.2 GDP 115
7.3.3 Employment 115
7.3.4 Exports 116
7.3.5 Foreign investment 116
7.3.6 Government revenues 118
7.4 The importance of biodiversity to socio-economic development priorities 119
8.1 Protected area System 120
8.1.1 Background 120
8.1.2 Status 121
8.1.3 Users and stakeholders 123
8.1.4 Management 123
8.1.5 Community involvement in the management of protected areas 123
8.2 Pressures on NBCAs 123
8.2.1 Protected areas and development 123
8.2.2 Development impact on Protected Areas 124
8.3 Conservation experience 125
8.4 Conservation opportunities 125
8.5 Sustainable use experience 126
8.5.1 Non timber forest products 126
8.5.2 Fisheries and sustainable use 127
8.5.3 Domestication 129
8.6 Management options 129
8.7 Issues of concern 130
9.1 Ecotourism and national development 131
9.2 Ecotourism in protected Areas 132
9.3 Ecotourism and culture 132
9.4 Ecotourism – an institutional overview 132
9.5 Strengthening ecotourism – biodiversity linkages 134
10.1 Access rights 135
10.2 Biosafety 136
10.2.1 Biotechnology and genetic engineering 136
10.2.2 The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety 137
10.2.3 Alien invasive species 138
11.1 BCR key findings 142
11.2 Benefits derived from the maintenance of biodiversity 145
11.3 The challenge ahead – National Biodiversity Strategy and Action 147
11.4 Mobilizing funds for biodiversity conservation 150
11.5 Monitoring and evaluation 152


Table 1: Geographic, historical and cultural regions of the Lao PDR 26
Table 2: Population by province, 2002 29
Table 3: Main farming systems in the Lao PDR 38
Table 4: Percentage of poor by ethno-linguistic group 39
Table 5: Lao PDR ecosystems – goods and services provided 44
Table 6: Distribution of eight forest types along altitudes in the Lao P.D.R., 1989 50
Table 7: Distribution and status of NTFPs in the Lao PDR 56
Table 8: Villagers’ ranking of 50 most important NTFPs 58
Table 9: Examples of wild edible species in the Lao PDR 59
Table 10: List of recent extinctions in the Lao PDR 69
Table 11: Animals expected to fall below viable populations and priciple threat 70
Table 12: Threatened species recorded in the Lao PDR 71
Table 13: Examples of stakeholders with a mandate to work on NTFPs 76
Table 14: Legislative hierarchy in the Lao PDR 82
Table 15: Value of traditional rice varieties 2001 95
Table 16: Value of livestock production 2001 95
Table 17: Timber production 1965-1999 96
Table 18: Value of commercial timber exploitation 97
Table 19: Value of timber consumption 99
Table 20: Value of domestic and commercial woodfuel consumption 100
Table 21: Annual value of NTFPs for household income and subsistence 101
Table 22: Commercial value of NTFPs 102
Table 23: Value of fish and aquatic animals 103
Table 24: Value of ecotourism 105
Table 25: Value of carbon sequestration by forests 109
Table 26: On-going donor commitments to biodiversity conservation 1993-2003 111
Table 27: Opportunity costs of crop and timber production foregone in conservation forests 113
Table 28: Summary of biodiversity economic values quantified in previous chapters 118
Table 29: Taxes, fees and duties levied on biodiversity-related activities 120
Table 30: Summary of total biodiversity conservation land area in the Lao PDR 122
Table 31: National Biodiversity Conservation Areas. 122

Figure 1: Composition of GDP, 2000 30
Figure 2: Key economic indicators 1990-2000 32
Figure 3: NTFPs in the household economy 100
Figure 4: Biodiversity in Public Investment Programmes 1991-1995 and 1996-2000 108
Figure 5: Composition of donor commitments to biodiversity conservation projects and 109
programmes 1996-2003 109
Figure 6: Composition of biodiversity direct economic benefits 113
Figure 7: Role of biodiversity in the national economy, average per year 1995-2000 115
Figure 8: Role of biodiversity in GDP 1991-2000 116
Figure 9: Role of biodiversity in export earnings 1991-2000 117
Figure 10: Role of forest products in export earnings 1994-1998 117
Figure 11: Role of biodiversity in approved foreign investments 1994-2000 117
Figure 12: Biodiversity in government revenues 1991-2000 119

Box 1: Ethno-linguistic families in the Lao PDR 26
Box 2: Diversity of rural production systems in the Lao PDR 36
Box 3: The ecoregion conservation planning process in brief 45
Box 4: Ecosystems approach – a case study 45
Box 5: Lao PDR ecosystem zoning in an international / regional perspective. 47
Box 6: Quotes illustrating the abundance of forests and
Wildlife in the Lao PDR in the 19
century 131
Box 7: Priorities for strengthening ecotourism - biodiversity linkages in the Lao PDR 135


The Lao PDR is still for many people around the world a rather unknown and somewhat enigmatic country. Located
between Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and China, Laos lies in the very centre of a dynamic and prospering
region. Geographical conditions, however, place limitations on both the quanitiy and quality of agricultural land as
well as on the development of trade, infras tructure, transport and communications. The Lao PDR has, compared to
it’s neighbouring countries, a low population density and comparatively extensive, relatively undisturbed natural areas.
The natural resources constitute the basis of the country’s economy and many of them have unfortunately been
heavily exploited in recent years.
Formerly known as “Lane Xang” or the “Kingdom of a Million Elephants”, the Lao PDR is still rated as one of the
countries that have a very rich diversity of species. The full extent of this diversity, however, is still unknown and
needs further study. The earliest studies of the Lao PDR’s biodiversity date back to the French colonial regime, but
the long years of war interrupted scientific research on plants, birds, aquatic animals and mammals for a considerable
time. More recent studies and research were carried out in co-operation between national organisations such as the
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), its departments and research organisations (e.g. NAFRI, LaRECC) and
external donors. These are – among others – the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the
Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Wildlife Conservation
Society (WCS), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the World Bank (WB), the Asian
Development Bank (ADB), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the Deutsche Gesellschaft
f?r Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and UN-organisations.
However, the knowledge about the Lao PDR’s biodiversity still remains limited.
A lot of the research effort aimed and aims at reconciling the two most pressing issues: utilising available natural
resources in a sustainable way and conservation of the natural resources for future generations.
The Government of the Lao PDR acceded the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – also known as the Rio
Convention – in 1995 and committed itself as part of its obligations as party (signatory), to developing a national
biodiversity strategy. National strategies aim to protect biodiversity resources and to ensure their sustainable use.
The Biodiversity Country Report (BCR) is the first output of the Project on National Biodiversity Strategy and Action
Plan (NBSAP), executed jointly by the Science, Technology and Environment Agency (STEA) and the Ministry of
Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) with support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The Danish
Government finances the project through a grant, which is supplemented by funds made available from the UNDP.
The BCR comes at a time, when the Government of the Lao PDR (GoL) is working towards poverty eradication and
sustainable development. In the given context of the Lao PDR’s sustainable use of natural resources – and in
particular the county’s rich biodiversity – holds one of the keys to poverty reduction. The country’s economy depends
mainly on natural resources. Hydropower, non-timber forest products (NTFP’s), and wood products are important
exports, thus contributing to the country’s hard-currency income. Eco-tourism, as a new branch of the Lao PDR’s
tourism industry, markets the relatively undisturbed nature of the country. Therefore estimates have been made that
biological diversity is the main source of wealth for the country. Maintaining the productivity of these important
resources constitutes the true value of biodiversity and remains central to any national development strategy.
The BCR supports attempts to establish the true value of biodiversity. Once the value of biodiversity is recognised
and acknowledged, strategies can be designed for its sustainable management. A better understanding of the concept
of biodiversity enables the people of the Lao PDR to develop such strategies. Without well-planned strategies, the Lao
PDR risks losing valuable parts of this resource through careless destruction.
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) defines biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources
including (inter alia), terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes
diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” (CBD, UNEP, 1992).
Biodiversity means the variability among all living organisms and ecosystems. It comprises not only wild animals and
plants, i.e. the diversity between wild species and genetic diversity within wild species, but also diversity within
cultivated and domesticated species, such as traditional rice varieties.
Generally, there are three distinguishable components of biodiversity:
1. Genetic diversity addresses the variation within species. Genes carry the inherited information of any organism,
thus determining the genetic variations between different populations of the same species as well as within a
population. A rich genetic variation permits species to adapt faster to or cope better with environmental
2. Species diversity addresses the quantity of species found in a country, area or location. Species are distinct and
understood as a group of organisms that can breed to produce fertile offspring.
3. Ecosystem diversity addresses the interaction between organisms and the physical environment, in which they are
living. Therefore it differentiates ecosystem types according to the diversity of habitats (the place where an
organism occurs) and ecological processes within this system.
These components cover a wide field and this report does not pretend to provide an in-depth analysis of these
components. Instead, the BCR seeks to provide an overview of existing data and information on the Lao PDR’s
biodiversity based on a review of the currently available literature. With this objective in mind, eleven working groups
of national specialists from various ministries and institutes selected key documents out of the more than 100
background documents to compile specific subject reports (referred to as annexes, included in CD-ROM).
International specialists occasionally supported the writing process. The background documents on Lao biodiversity
are presented – among others – on a CD-ROM, which accompanies this report.
The technical working groups’ written contributions form the basis of the BCR and the project-team compiled the
first draft in both Lao and English. The findings, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations expressed were
then discussed extensively among stakeholders prior to compiling the final BCR and submitting it to the Biodiversity
Steering Committee for endorsement. Therefore, the BCR represents a truly national document paving the way for
the development of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP).
Knowledge develops and increases, sometimes at a great pace. These dynamics, in combination with the topic’s
magnitude, placed limitations on the project team’s aspirations to include a complete overview. The report should be
accepted with these limitations in mind. As a compilation of existing information, the report not only mirrors existing
knowledge, but also the ownership, strengths and weaknesses of this knowledge.
Another limitation comes with the report’s nature: it is a literary review. Traditional or indigenous knowledge is a very
valuable source of information on biodiversity and consequently is included in some of the source documents. The
BCR does not cover this area explicitly, however, it does encourage this approach. The truth is out there. The people
possess a wealth of knowledge of their habitats and of the different patterns of utilizing the natural resources.
The Government of Lao PDR through STEA and MAF implements a process of public consultation in order to
establish a national biodiversity strategy and action plan. This report is meant to serve as a key source to facilitate this

2.1 Overview

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (the Lao PDR) is a landlocked country with a total area of 236,800 km
, much
of which is forested and mountainous. The country is divided into sixteen provinces, one municipality and one special
region. With a population of about 5 million in 2000, the Lao PDR is the second least populated country in
Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) with the lowest population density. The sparse distribution of the
population is compounded by the rugged topography and this is one of the constraints on the “Growth with Equity”
strategy pursued by the Government of the Lao PDR, particularly in the six provinces of the North. Other challenges
to the socio-economic development include high illiteracy, high infant mortality, low productivity and income, lack of
experienced staff and skilled labour force, and limited legal and regulatory structures.
The country is ranked among the world’s least developed countries and yet with a promising economic development
perspective thanks to its rich and competitive natural resources, including water resources. The prevailing economy of
the Lao PDR is dominated by agricultural production, which is the main source of income, employing over 80% of
the labour force, and currently accounts for over 50% of the GDP (including forestry). The agricultural sector
supplies 40% of the foreign exchange earnings. The industrial and services sectors are still at an early stage of
development except for hydropower, one of the main export sectors of the country.
In view of the importance of agriculture in terms of both income and employment generation, and the competitive
advantage of Lao hydropower in the region, the water sector is a key for the development strategy of the Lao PDR.
To date, about 20% of the cultivated land is provided with reliable irrigation water and less than 2% of the currently
estimated 30,000 MW hydropower (including the Mekong River) potential capacity has been developed.

Increased health and welfare of the people of the Lao PDR will also depend on improved water supplies
and sanitation. Presently, few people outside the major urban areas have access to safe, secure and
convenient supplies of drinking water. Even in urban areas, sanitation and drainage services are poor and
result in a diminished quality of life.
2.2 The people of Lao

The Lao PDR is a multi ethnic society with a cultural diversity unparalleled in the region. In comparison with its
neighbours, the Lao PDR’s main demographical distinguishing features are:
a) The high proportion of ethnic groups approxi-mately 60% of the total population that can be found in every
province. The groups’ social systems, cultural characteristics and identity are linked to their language,
geographical area and surrounding ecosystem, their interaction with this physical environment (e.g. forests, rice
fields, wetlands or rivers), and their access to material goods.
b) Its low population density of 20 inhabitants per km
in a total population of 5 million (NHDR 2001).
The Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC) proposed an official ethnic classification into 49 main groups,
which is currently under consideration by the National Assembly. These ethnic groups fall into four ethno-linguistic
families: Tai-Kadai, Mon-Khmer, Hmong-Mien, and Tibeto- Burman. Each group, in turn, is further subdivided into
branches and subgroups, encompassing over 230 ethno-linguistic groups.
Of the four regions, the North has the highest proportion of distinct ethnic groups; they account for 87% of the
region’s population. The East comes next, with 69%, followed by the South and Central Regions, each of which has
ethnic populations of approximately 50% (adapted from ADB 2000

Table 1: Geographic, historical and cultural regions of the Lao PDR

Lao Region
Historical Lao Kingdom and
External Contacts
Predominant Ethnic
Sip Song Panna )
Luang Prabang,
Phongsaly, Luang
Namtha, Bokeo,
Oudomxay, Xayabury
Lue, Lao, Mien, Hmong,
Tibeto-Burman, Khmuic,
Chou Tai, Thanh Hoa, Nghe
An, Quang Binh )
Huaphanh, Xieng khuang,
Tai, Neua-Phouan, phou
Thay, Nyo, Hmong,
Khmouic, Vietic, W. Katuic
Thailand )
Vientiane provice and
municipality, Xaysomboon
Special Zone
Lao, Hmong, and mixed
internal migrants
Mekong Basin
Lower NE Thailand)
Savanaket, Saravan,
Champasak, Sekong,
Katuic, Bahnaric, Lao, Phou
Source: NSC/ADB 2001

The geo-cultural domains represented by the main ethno-linguistic distinctions are broadly separable into highlands
and lowlands with the Tai-Kadai groups typically inhabiting the lowlands and cultivating paddy rice, while the Mon-
Khmer, Hmong-Mien, and Tibeto-Burman groups reside in the mountains and practice swidden agriculture. The
highlands are further subdivided into smaller spatial realms.

2.3 Specific features of the Lao PDR

Bio-geographical position: The Lao PDR is situated in the Indochinese subdivision (Corbet and Hill 1992) of the
Indo-malayan Realm. Within this subdivision, Mackinnon and Mackinnon (1986) considered that parts of four bio-
geographic units are present in the Lao PDR. Their unit of ‘Annam’ encompasses the Annamite Range and extends
across Vietnam to the South China Sea. The other three units are sub-units of ‘central Indochina’, i.e.: the ‘tropical
lowlands’, the ‘tropical montane’ and the ‘sub-tropical transition zone’. These are shared with Cambodia, Thailand,
Myanmar, Vietnam and China.
The Indochinese fauna includes (Mackinnon and Mackinnon 1986) species shared with:
a) The Himalayan Palaearctic (in the northern mountainous part of the region);
b) The Chinese Palaearctic (species that have spread along the coast of southern China)
c) The Sunaic sub region to the south; and
d) Northern India through the Assam-Myanmar transition zone.
The Annamite Range and the Mekong River are the main natural barriers in the area, forming the limits of the range
of a number of species and subspecies.
Climate: The climate of the Lao PDR is seasonally tropical, with a pronounced wet and dry season. The lowest levels
of mean annual rainfall are about 1,300 mm in the northwest, while the highest levels are well above 4,000 mm in the
Annamite range of the south. The majority of the lowlands experience 1,500-2,000 mm of annual rainfall. These levels
of mean annual rainfall are generally higher than those in Thailand to the west, but lower than rainfall in Vietnam to
the east (Rundel 1999).

Box 1: Ethno-linguistic families in the Lao PDR

The Tai linguistic family, (‘Lao Loum’), represented in the Lao PDR by the Lao and 26 other ethnic groups, is by far the most
significant family, comprising approximately 60% of the national population. The Tai are plain and valley-dwelling paddy rice
growers with a diet based mainly on glutinous rice. Although they arrived much later than the Austro-Asiatic family the Tai
were able to effectively overcome social, economic and natural adversities. This was due to their socio-political and spatial
organization, and due to the performance of their production system. Their habitat, close to the towns and communication
routes facilitated their access to social services such as education and health facilities as well as the integration of these
societies into the state political system, and the national and international economy.

The Austro-Asiatic linguistic family (‘Lao Theung’), represented in the Lao PDR by the Mon-Khmer sub-family consists of 59
ethnic groups and sub-groups, has the greatest diversity of the country’s four main linguistic families. Khmu, Katang,
Makong (So), Suay Laven and Taoy make up 70% of this family. Early inhabitants of the Lao PDR, they now make up
between a quarter and a third of the national population and their habitat covers not less than 50% of the country in the less
populated areas. This low population density is a condition of survival for these populations of shifting cultivators also
called forest farmers. All the ethnic groups in the Austro-Asiatic family share animistic beliefs, and in some cases practice
shamanistic religions with beliefs in house spirits, ancestor worship and natural spirits.

The Hmong Lay, the Hmong Khao, the Yao and the Lao Huay, who originally migrated from China in the 19
represent the Miao-Yao linguistic family (‘Lao Soung’) in the Lao PDR. Today they make up 10% of the national population
and mainly live north of Bolikhamxay Province practising shifting cultivation (upland rice, corn and vegetables).
Accustomed to montane conditions, they inhabit several mountain ranges in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay,
Xayabury, Bokeo and Phongsaly provinces. The Lao Soung seek to conserve their ethnic identity and in particular their
architecture, language, religious beliefs, ceremonies, clothes and ornaments.

Thirty-three groups of Tibeto-Burman speakers make up 3% of the population of the Lao PDR. Inhabiting the most northern
and northwest highlands of the country, these ethnic groups, (the largest one being the Kho (Akha)) are not well known
even by the Lao themselves. Living according to strict traditional codes of behaviour and relying on a subsistence economy
men and women rarely travel beyond district markets in Luang Namtha and Phongsaly provinces. Their main production
system is based on the growing of upland rice through shifting cultivation

Source: Adapted from L. Chaz
e, “The Peoples of Laos - Rural and Ethnic Diversities”, 1999

Vientiane has a mean annual rainfall of 1,715 mm. In northern Lao PDR, lowland valleys typically receive rainfall
levels of 1,500-2,000 mm, while highlands receive 2,000-3,000 mm or more. Pakse on the Mekong River in southern
Lao PDR has a mean annual rainfall of 2,216 mm. Humid highlands are extensive in the Annamite Range of central
Lao PDR and occur again in the area of the Bolovens Plateau in the South. The Nakai Plateau at 500-600 m in
Khammouane province of central Lao PDR receives an annual rainfall of about 2,250 mm (ibid).
Mean annual maximum temperatures vary little from north to south along the Mekong River. For Luang Prabang (350
m elevation), Vientiane (160 m elevation) and Pakse (96 m elevation), the mean annual maximum temperatures are
31.9, 30.8, and 31.6ฐC respectively, while the mean annual low temperatures are 19.6, 20.6, and 22.2ฐC respectively
(ibid and see Annex 3 for more detailed information on the Lao PDR’s climate).
Characteristic Landforms
Mountains: Mainland Southeast Asia forms a primary geo-morphological unit underlain by a nucleus of Pre-Cambrian
crystalline rock that consolidated to form a stable core area in Late Triassic times. This unit, variously designated as
the Southeast Asian or Sundaland prong of the Eurasian Plate, extends from the Andaman Islands to the west
acrossMyanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and the Lao PDR, to northern Vietnam (Rundel 1999).
Shallow seas covered much of central and northern Indochina during the late Paleozoic, leading to the formation of
extensive deposits of limestone. Spectacular karst mountain topography present today across eastern Lao PDR (and in
northern and central Vietnam) is formed of limestone from the Permian (ibid).
Basalt flows of late Tertiary and Quaternary age cover thousands of square kilometres of land area in southern
Indochina, seen today as the Bolovens Plateau of southern Lao PDR. Smaller outliers of basalt cover occur in north-
western Lao PDR, western Cambodia and north central Vietnam (ibid).
The Northern Highlands of the Lao PDR consist of a rugged hill topography mostly between 500 and 2,000 m in
altitude, but include also some lower areas along the major river valleys. A few isolated peaks exceed 2,000 m,
including Phou Bia, the country’s highest point at 2,820 m. Most of the main massifs, containing by far the highest
peaks in the Lao PDR, are in the southern part of this region generally known as ‘the Xiangkhouang plateau’. All but
the extreme eastern part of the Northern Highlands drains into the Mekong River (ibid.).
The rugged topography of the North continues south-eastwards as the Annamite Range (Saiphou Louang in Lao),
which forms much of the border between the Lao PDR and Vietnam. As in the Northern Highlands, most of this
range is between 500 and 2,000 m in elevation, although there are a few higher peaks (maximum 2,700 m) and some
low passes below 500 m. Drainage is all westward into the Mekong River, through the adjacent Mekong Plain
physiographic unit. The Annamites act as a barrier to weather systems coming from the east, except in a few areas
where the crest is so low that rain-laden clouds cross westwards from Vietnam. Here, the forest is considerably wetter
than in areas shielded by the higher ridges (ibid.).
Forests: Although forest cover has declined greatly in the Lao PDR in the intervening 130 years, it has done so even
more sharply in neighbouring countries. The Lao PDR still retains forest cover of outstanding extent when compared
to Thailand, China (Yunnan Province) and Vietnam (J.W. Duckworth et al. 1999).
The original vegetation cover of the Northern Highlands consisted primarily of dry evergreen forest with, in contrast
to the Annamites, substantial areas of deciduous forest at a range of altitudes. There are also patches of forest on
limestone and the fragments of a formerly extensive pine forest on the Xiangkhouang (Tranninh) Plateau (ibid.).
The Mekong River: The Mekong River influences almost all Lao people and most (ca 95%) of the Lao PDR land
area. Furthermore, Lao watersheds contribute some 35% of the Mekong’s average annual flow. In terms of its length,
the Mekong rates as the twelfth longest river in the world. It ranks even higher in terms of its mean annual discharge
(about 475 x 109 m
per year) where it is sixth in the world (Pantulu 1986). The Mekong enters the Lao PDR at an
elevation of only 500 m after its sharp descent from the Himalayas and forms a broad river with a wandering course
and seasonally changing rate of flow (Rundel 1999). During the rainy season, Mekong peak flows block the tributaries
discharge, thus frequently causing flooding and reverse flows.
After a flow for a short distance as the Lao-Thai border, the Mekong turns eastward near Chiang Rai in northern
Thailand (about 20บN lat.) for a 600 km run through the Lao PDR. The river again changes direction just north of
Luang Prabang and flows southward. Near Xanakham, about 100 km to the west of Vientiane, the Mekong curves
back eastward, again forming the Lao-Thai border. Here it skirts the hills of north-eastern Thailand and then cuts a
gorge through the sandstone rim of the Khorat Plateau along a line of low hills about 24 km to the west of Vientiane
(ibid.). The Mekong continues to flow eastward until Pak Kading where it turns again to the south. From here to the
Cambodian border, the Mekong follows the rim of the Khorat Plateau through low-lying topography of broad valleys
and gentle profiles. Natural levees mark much of the boundaries of the river (ibid., p.9.).
The Lower Mekong Basin supports one of the most diverse fish faunas in the world, and certainly one of the most
varied in Asia. About 1.200 species of fish, many of, which remain unknown to science, occur in the Mekong basin,
including brackish water areas (Rainboth, 1996; van Zalinge et al., 1998). The flood plains and other wetlands of the
Mekong River and its tributaries are crucial feeding and rearing habitats for the majority of fish species and other
aquatic animals. Within the main river channels, certain sections (deep pools) are used by a large number of species as
dry season habitats.


Dong Phou Vieng Source : WWF

2.4 Overview of the Lao PDR economy

In 2002, it was estimated that the total population of the country is some 5.48 million people or 861,500 households,
of which approximately 83% live in rural areas (Table 2).

Table 2: Population by province, 2002

Total population
Rural population
Urban population

Luang Prabang
Veintiane Municipality
Xieng Khouang
Xaysomboon SR
Calculated from 1999 population data presented in MAF 2000b, updated to 2002 levels using an average
2.5% growth rate (STEA 2000).

The economy of the Lao PDR is heavily dependent on natural resources. It is dominated by subsistence production,
and the majority of the population rely on farming and the collection of forest products for their basic livelihoods. In
2000, nominal GDP was estimated to be 13,483 billion kip or US$ 1.65 billion (IMF 2002). Although per capita GDP
increased from $114 in 1985 to US$ 330 in 2000, the incidence of poverty remains high. Thirty nine percent of the
population are currently thought to be living in poverty and the Lao PDR is ranked 140 out of 174 in UNDP’s
Human Development Index, making it one of the poorest countries in the Asia region (ADB 2001a, 2001b).
Since its establishment in 1975, the Lao PDR has followed three major phases of economic policy. Until the mid-
1980s the country was managed as a centrally planned economy, characterised by heavy state intervention in most
sectors of the economy. The New Economic Mechanism, established in 1986, set in place a series of reforms, which
aimed to effect a transition towards a more market-driven economy. After a period of macroeconomic instability
following the onset of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, economic recovery has been led by renewed efforts at
economic liberalisation and stabilisation, and poverty eradication has become a guiding principle of national socio-
economic development policy and planning.

2.5 Economic structure and composition

The economy of the Lao PDR can be divided into three broad sectors: agriculture, services and industry (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Composition of GDP, 2000

Calculated from data presented in IMF 2002

Agriculture, including crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry. In 2000, agriculture contributed just over half of
GDP, and absorbed more than 80% of the labour force. The sector is dominated by subsistence production,
especially of rice, although there has been some growth in the cultivation of cash crops, especially coffee, over
recent years. The relative share of different crops in agricultural production has remained relatively stable over
the last decades (ADB 2001a). Major policy directions in the arable agriculture sub-sector include investment in
expanding the area under irrigation, and controlling slash-and-burn cultivation. Forest production is also an
important source of income, government revenues and foreign earnings.

Services, including wholesale and retail trade, ownership and dwellings, non-profit institutions, public wages,
banking, hotels and restaurants, transport, communications and post. In 2000, services contributed one quarter
of GDP. Wholesale and retail trade dominate the sector, and have shown marked growth over recent years.
The tourism sub-sector is also expanding rapidly, and is seen as an important source of future growth and
foreign exchange earnings.

Industry, including mining, manufacturing, construction, electricity and water. In 2000, industry contributed
just under a quarter of GDP. Manufacturing activities play an especially important role in this sector, and have
expanded over recent years. The hydropower sector continues to be an important source of investment, and
sales of electricity have become one of the country’s major exports.
Although the national economy of the Lao PDR remains heavily reliant on agriculture and natural resources, and is
likely to be so for the foreseeable future, the share of agriculture in GDP has been declining steadily, from 71% in
1985 to 52% in 2000. Meanwhile the contribution of industry has doubled from 11% to 23% over the same period,
and the share of the service sector has increased by almost a half from 18% to 25%. Future growth strategies aim to
diversify the economy further, particularly targeting growth in industrial and service sectors and modernisation in the
agricultural sector.

2.6 Recent economic trends

For the decade following the establishment of the Lao PDR in 1975, the national economy was managed as a centrally
planned system. Economic policy and planning was characterised by heavy state intervention in most sectors. Prices
remained controlled, especially in key areas such as agricultural production, energy and food, interest and exchange
rates were set administratively and were relatively inflexible. Foreign investment and trade was limited, most large
industries were state-owned and state-managed, and the private sector was undeveloped.

Figure 2: Key economic indicators 1990-2000

From data presented in IMF 2002

By the mid 1980s the national economy was showing signs of stagnation. Agricultural production was sluggish; there
was low mobilisation of domestic savings, and few private enterprises. The New Economic Mechanism was
established in 1986, in an attempt to stimulate economic recovery. This set in place a series of reforms which aimed to
effect a transition towards a more market-driven economy, including market and trade liberalisation, growing private
sector involvement, and progressive devolution and decentralisation of central government functions.
Reforms affected under the New Economic Mechanism contributed to a steady growth of the economy and progress
of national output. GDP registered an increasing growth rate of 5.0% between 1986-1990, 6.4% between 1991-1995
and 6.2% between 1996-2000 (IMF 2002). Positive growth rates were recorded in most sectors of the economy, the
exchange rate remained relatively stable, inflation was kept down, and the foreign trade balance improved (Figure 2).
These positive developments however suffered a setback in the late 1990s with the onset of the 1997 Asian financial
crisis. Although impacts were less severe in the Lao PDR than in many other countries in the region, vulnerability to
such external shocks had already been mounting due to a slowdown in the momentum of reforms and resulting
weakness in the economy. Following the crisis, foreign direct investment fell by 91% in 1997, and there was a
downturn in private sector activity. Liquidity problems were registered in the banking system, there was an increasing
budget deficit, and confidence in the economy declined. GDP growth rates, maintained at 7% during 1997, slowed to
4% in 1998. Because of its close links to the Thai Baht, the kip was particularly vulnerable to the exchange rate
volatility that shook the region, and the domestic currency devalued sharply from 954 kip to the US Dollar in
December 1996 to 7,600 kip to the Dollar in 1999. Rapid inflation was also experienced over this period, growing
from an annual rate of 14.4% in September 1997 through almost 50% in 1998.
Immediate measures were set in place to contain demand-led inflation, tighten monetary policy, restrict public
expenditures, stimulate savings and maintain foreign exchange reserves. Although these measures minimised the
negative impacts of the crisis, the domestic economy remained weak for some time, exacerbated by inappropriate
monetary and fiscal policies. Rapid monetary expansion was affected during and immediately after the crisis, rather
than the tightening of macroeconomic policy that was required. Revenues fell short of expected levels and capital
expenditures increased, resulting in a fiscal deficit that was higher than planned (ADB 2001a).
Weakened monetary control and rapid monetary expansion fuelled the high inflation rates seen up to 1999.
Meanwhile, negative real interest rates and expectations of devaluation also undermined confidence in the financial
sector, keeping savings rates low and limiting monetary depth.
By the end of the 1990s the Lao PDR was experiencing macroeconomic instability. Over the last two years there has
however been an upturn in the economy. Agriculture has led the economic recovery process, strongly supported by
growth in manufacturing and electricity production. Growth in GDP has been maintained and the government is
taking steps to restore the balance between capital and recurrent spending and to contain public expenditures. The
exchange rate has stabilised, the balance of payments deficit has been reduced as trade has improved and diversified,
and foreign exchange reserves have increased. Money growth has also slowed down, and inflation has fallen. The
private sector is playing an increasingly important role in the economy, and in 2000 decentralisation became a key
strategy for future public sector operations, defining Provinces as strategic units, districts as planning and budgeting
units and villages as implementing units.

2.7 Current economic strategy

In line with the National Development Vision, defined by the Seventh Party Congress in March 2001, the Fifth Five
Year Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2001-2005 has a strong focus on poverty reduction, sustained economic
growth, continuing liberalisation and macroeconomic stability, and specifies clear medium-term economic goals for
this period, including to:

Achieve an overall GDP growth rate of 7-7.5 percent per year, with a 4-5 percent growth rate in the agriculture
sector, 10-11 percent growth rate in the industry sector and 8-9 percent growth rate in the services sector.

Change the composition of GDP so that 47 percent is represented by agriculture, 26 percent by industry, and
27 percent by services.

Control the annual inflation rate to be no higher than 10 percent.

Develop a stable exchange rate.

Increase annual budget revenues and to manage the budget deficit at around 5 percent of GDP.

Maintain the current account deficit at no more than 6 percent of GDP.

Bring public investment to 12-14% of GDP


savings to 12% of GDP.

Achieve a per capita GDP of US$ 500-550

Reduce the incidence of poverty by half.

Totally eliminate opium and marijuana cultivation.

Attain rice self-sufficiency.

Reduce the level of slash-and-burn cultivation.

2.8 Economic policy links to biodiversity

Four broad influences of economic policy on biodiversity can be identified, and are examined in further detail below:

Through influencing the general economic status and living conditions of the population, economic
policies affect the way in which people use lands and resources. As example the current development policy
focus on poverty alleviation may serve, while efforts to stabilise shifting cultivation may cause a reverse effect.

By prioritising or focusing on particular development sectors and goals, economic policies encourage
people to carry out economic activities at particular levels and in particular ways. Many of these activities
influence biodiversity. For example the current socio-economic development plan has set an ambitious strategy
and targets for future growth. There is a major policy focus on agricultural diversification and intensification,
improved foreign trade, and expanding energy and transport infrastructure, all of which have the potential to
encroach on or otherwise interfere with biodiversity. Conversely, better control of slash-and-burn cultivation
and attempts at rural income diversification may result in improved conservation of biodiversity.

The use of economic and fiscal instruments to achieve economic and development goals exerts a strong
influence on price and market signals. Price and market liberalisation, especially in the agricultural sector,
has helped to overcome many of the distortions and subsidies that have in the past discriminated against
biodiversity. However prices remain distorted or non-existent for many biodiversity goods and services, for
example timber prices are one of the few remaining areas of the economy that remain unliberalised to date.
On-going moves towards decentralisation and privatisation have the potential to influence the ways in
which biodiversity is managed and generates benefits. As well as increasing the degree of private
participation and responsibility in biodiversity conservation, the devolution of revenue collection and
budgeting to Provincial and District levels opens up new
possibilities for generating income from and allocating budgets to biodiversity.

Public spending and investment is determined according to the economic policy emphasis accorded to
different development goals and sectors. At the moment, biodiversity conservation is not considered a high
priority for government spending, especially in comparison to other sectors of the economy such as agriculture,
healthcare and education, and budgets to biodiversity conservation remain extremely low.

3.1 The regional context

Conservation International has designated the Indo-Burman region, which includes the Lao PDR, as one of the
world’s global biodiversity hotspots (Mittermeier et al. 1998). The biodiversity of the Lao PDR is less well known than
neighbouring Vietnam, China, and Thailand. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Lao PDR has an outstanding
biodiversity, as it is rich in both in fauna and flora. There are an estimated 8 – 11,000 species of flowering plants (Xiao
Jun Qui et al., 1993). Approximately one-third of the plants of the Indo-Chinese bio-geographic sub-region are
endemic to the sub-region, which covers most of the Lao PDR (MacKinnon and MacKinnon 1997).
Lao fauna comprises 166 species of reptiles and amphibians, 700 species of birds, and over 100 species of large
mammals (Duckworth et al, 1999). In the Indochinese Peninsula, despite limited surveys 87 families of fish have been
identified in comparison to 74 families in the whole of Africa and only 60 in South America (Kottelat 1989). Due to
the great diversity of freshwater habitats in the Lao PDR, with the slow-moving Mekong River and its tributaries (with
alternating slow stretches and rapids) and many isolated montane streams, it is estimated that much of the region’s
fish diversity can be found in the Lao PDR.
MacKinnon (1997) ranked the Lao PDR moderately rich in species based on the combined total of plant, bird and
mammal species, weighted for endemism and land area. Given the limited survey work in the country (as
herpetological surveys began after the MacKinnon analysis was published), and the fact that fish were not considered,
this publication may underestimate the Lao PDR’s biological importance.

3.2 Aspects of human interaction with biodiversity

The majority of the Lao PDR’s population are subsistence farmers, they rely and have relied on biodiversity resources
for their basic needs for many generations, and they have a distinct interest to maintain high levels of biodiversity. The
value of biodiversity also represents a significant source of national income contributing to the country’s socio-
economic development. Timber, processed wood and handicrafts made of natural products are all export
commodities. Additionally, biodiversity plays an important role in environmental protection, as healthy ecosystems
with diverse forests and aquatic resources can support agricultural production and prevent natural disasters such as
flooding, landslides and drought.
The last few decades have witnessed heavy losses in biodiversity resources due to habitat destruction, unsustainable
use and increasing rural and urban populations. The main factors contributing to the destruction of biodiversity are
poor forest management, illegal logging, unsustainable hunting and fishing practices, wildlife trade, and – assumingly –
pioneering shifting cultivation. In the past many years the country’s forest cover has decneased which consequently
has had negative impacts on people’s lives, especially in the rural areas. The present persistent overexploitation of
natural resources will result in depriving future generations of vital resources thereby increasing the risk of poverty.
It is evident that the sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity will play an important role in the economic
development of the country, as the population is heavily dependent on the country’s biodiversity for their livelihood.
In a larger economic context, a sound and healthy environment adds to protecting investments (e.g. hydropower,
roads) and provides the basis for diversifying the rural economy (e.g. ecotourism).

3.2.1 Production systems and poverty

In the Lao PDR – as in other countries – links can be identified between ethnicity, living area and the ways, natural
resources are utilised. Populations and population segments interact differently with their respective physical
environment. The environment shapes the production and farming system and human intervention and utilisation of
biodiversity shapes the environment. Thus, different ethnic groups living at different locations developed different
land-use practices and patterns together with specific survival / livelihood strategies. While blanket approaches to
changing unwanted practices may fail, these circumstances call for a diverse analytical capacity and equally diverse
support mechanism
According to national statistics, 1.85 million people (85% of the Lao population) are dependant on
agriculture and fisheries as the basis of their livelihood, regardless whether it is market, subsistence
oriented or a combination of both. Unsurprisingly, natural resources are the nation’s and population’s
most valuable assets. They provide the basis for the livelihood (food, shelter), development and
prosperity of the people. The Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPA, ADB 2000) clearly identified and
confirmed the order of priorities: livelihood comes before education and health. Food comes first. This
raises some of the following questions: How do the different ethnic groups in the Lao PDR maintain
their livelihoods? What are their distinct differences and similarities in the ways in which they utilise the
natural environment? How can the GoL support their aspirations for development?


Chaz´ee (1999) identified 16 rural production systems, which have been classified into three main types. These
systems have two common elements: the cultivation of rice (either glutinous or non-glutinous) as the staple-food and
a diversified livelihood strategy.
Forests play an important role in livelihood strategies, as they host a multitude of products and species which people
use in their daily lives, and they are also a valuable economic resource. Wood, which is only one of the many forest
products, is used in construction, road works and for farming tools such as forks and ploughs. It is also used in the
manufacture of paper, furniture,
and handicrafts. Furthermore it is used domestically as fuel wood and charcoal.
Forests are also the source of important products such as bark, fibres, natural dyes, lacquer, wax, fruits, rattan and
medicinal plants. People use wild animals in various ways such as the consumption of their meat and the processing or
trading of various body parts such as bones, horns, tusks, skin and bladders as ingredients in medicinal preparations.
And of course, there is still illegal hunting and trading of endangered species of wildlife for cash.
Highland agriculture characteristically consists of shifting cultivation whereby farmers distribute crops over many
sections of land, using each plot for one or two years before moving on and returning to it five to six years later.
During the fallow period, the land and forest are left to rest and regenerate. The ability to regenerate is dependant
upon the species present as some are able to whereas others are not.
This age-old method practiced by the various ethnic groups was a natural way to preserve the forest and keep an
ecological balance. However, in many cases the necessary fallow periods are shortening, thus not permitting the land
to recover. Under no circumstances is a fallow period of only 5-6 years sufficient to restore a forest. In the Lao PDR,
with a traditional fallow cycle of 15 to 25 years, the sustainability of this technique is in jeopardy when the density of
the population exceeds 20 persons per square km (Chaz´ee 1999).

Box 2: Diversity of rural production systems in the Lao PDR

Type 1: Main Upland Rice-based Production Systems
1a. Glutinous rice, vegetable, small livestock, hunting, gathering NTFPs, handicraft, woodcraft, basketry (everywhere in remote
mountain areas, especially in Mon-Khmer communities)
1b. Glutinous rice, vegetables, cash-crops (cotton, sesame, groundnut, soybean, sugar cane, castor beans), small livestock, hunting
gathering NTFPs (everywhere in accessible valleys, where produce can be transported, especially in Mon-Khmer communities
and the Tai-Kadai group)
1c. Non-glutinous rice, vegetables, maize, opium-poppy, small livestock (sometimes large animals), hunting, gathering NTFPs (in
the Northern region in Hmong-Yao and Tibeto-Burman communities)
1d. Glutinous rice, benzoin trees, vegetables, small livestock, hunting, gathering NTFPs (Mon-Khmer language speaking groups of
some districts in Houaphan, Xieng Khouang, Oudomxai, and Phongsaly)
1e. Glutinous or non-glutinous rice, seasonal work, small handicraft, small livestock, vegetables, gathering NTFPs, selling products
in markets (in areas of reduced forest cover, near communication networks and where employment is possible, mainly in Mon-
Khmer and Tibeto-Burman communities)
Home Ve
etable Gardens Source WWF
Type 2: Main Wetland Rice-based Production Systems
2a. Glutinous rain-fed lowland rice (South, Central, North) or wet-season irrigated rice (with supplementary irrigation), buffaloes,
cattle, small livestock, fish culture, vegetables, fruit, weaving, with hunting and NTFP collection near mountains (Tai-Kadai and
groups of other ethno-linguistic families)
2b. Glutinous rain-fed lowland rice (South, Central, North) or wet-season irrigated rice (with supplementary irrigation), buffaloes,
cattle, small livestock, fish culture, vegetables, weaving, handicraft, services (rice milling, ploughing by hand-tractor, etc.)
temporary labour, processing of products for marketing (Tai-Kadai, some Mon-Khmer communities, Hmong-Mien around
Vientiane; people living around main cities and close to Thailand)
2c. Intensive irrigated rice (glutinous and non-glutinous, double cropping), mechanisation, processing and marketing of rice, other
service activities and trade (Tai-Kadai communities in irrigated plains along the Mekong and some other areas such as Phien
district of Sayaboury, Vang Vieng district of Vientiane, the irrigated plains of Oudomxai and Luang Namtha)
2d. Glutinous rice, buffaloes, small livestock, riverbank vegetables, fishing, small trade (Tai-Kadai along the Mekong)
Type 3: Other Main Production Systems
3a. Large annimals, small livestock, secondary crops, hunting, NTFP collection, opium-poppy (Hmong of Nonghet district in Xieng
Khuang, some Tibeto-Burman groups in Phongsaly and some Hmong in Samneua district of Houaphanh)
3b. Buffaloes or cattle raising, glutinous rice, small livestock, vegetables, small trade (Tai-kadai in Pek and Khoun districts of Xien
Khouang, some Mon-Khmer villagers on the pastural lands of Oudomxai, Luang Namtha and Phongsaly)
3c. Buffaloes, cattle, coffee cultivation, tea, cardamon, castor beans, fruit, small livestock (Mon-Khmer and Tai-Kadai on Boloven
3d. Fishing, hunting monitor lizards and tortoises, riverbank vegetables, small livestock, small trade (Kai-Kadai along middle and
lower Mekong)
3e. Various village activities linked to markets, intensive vegetable production, weaving, mushroom cultivation, marketing, small
trade, handicraft, seasonal labour (areas around urban centers and near borders with Thailand, (located between Vientiane and
Champasak; Tai-Kadai and some Khmer)
3f. Systems based on local opportunities such as charcoal production, contracted handicraft, seasonal labour in Thailand, urban
labour opportunities, community projects (peri-urban areas and along the Thai border)
3g. Contract-based cash-crop production for crops such as cotton, groundnuts, sesame, beans, maze, paper mulberry, Job’s tears,
etc.; also for tree-seed production (Tai-Kadai and Mon-Khmer along borders to Thailand and China [Vientiane, Sayaboury,
Bolikhamsay, Kammouane, savannakhet, Champsack, Luang Namtha, Bokeo, Luang Prabang])

Source: National Human Development Report Lao PDR 2001, UNDP 2002

There are of course exceptions to these generalisations. In some cases, like the Phouan of the Nam Xeng in Luang Prabang, Tai-Kadai groups have
livelihoods based primarily on swidden agriculture, while others including many of the Brou-related groups in Khammuane and Savannakhet, the Mon-
Khmers. The Kim–Moun, a Hmong-Mien group, inhabit valleys rather than mountains but practice swidden agriculture (NHDR 2001).
Three main farming systems have been classified into the following five sub-groups:

Table 3: Main farming systems in the Lao PDR

Farming System
Livelihood Problems
Lowland rain fed farming
Single cropping of traditional glutinous rice varieties (80%),
2-4 varieties of different maturation. Yield 2.5-3 tons/ha
(official estimate), 1.1 tons/ha (Lao-IRRI survey 1989-90).
Buffalo and cattle for draft, cash income and occasional
meat, free ranging during the dry season, confined in the
rainy season. Pigs, poultry, fish and NTFPs important for
food and cash income.
Rice shortages of 1 – 4
months a year and low
household income.
Lowland rainfed farming
Double cropping of traditional photoperiod sensitive rice
varieties, with higher use of improved varieties, and
fertilizers, etc. for the 2
crop, which is mainly for cash. Wet
season yields 1 – 3 tons/ha, dry season 2 – 4 tons/ha. Dry
season vegetables grown in areas near urban centre.
Relatively few livestock due to the shortage of grazing land,
buffalos are used for ploughing, small stock for meat and
cash income.
Better off than unirrigated
farms, but lack cash,
especially for investment.

Upland rainfed farming
Shifting cultivation for rice with yields of 1.4 -1.5 tons/ha
intercropped with cucumber, chilies, taro, sesame, etc. on
sloping land with fallow periods of 8 -10 years. Maize for
livestock in the 2
most important crop. Other crops : sweet
potatoes, ginger, cassavas, groundnuts, soybean, cotton
and sugarcane, papaya, coconuts, mangoes, tamarind,
bananas, and citrus ( more fruit species at lower altitudes).
Melons and watermelons are grown as dry season crops in
some areas. Pigs, cattle and poultry are the principle