|A resource person presents local equity issues to the RLG members in Siem Reap, Cambodia|
“I can’t imagine Lao without forests. On a daily basis, I see how forest communities depend on them to feed their families and support their livelihoods. The whole country – even the region – benefits from and relies on their long-term health.” This is how Mr. Bounchanh Lattanavongkot, Deputy Director, Luang Prabang Provincial Forestry Section, Lao PDR, describes the importance of protecting forests in the Greater Mekong, and he is correct. Without forests, millions would lose access to food and the natural chain would break down.
Key to maintaining these forests are the communities who live in and near them. These people know them best, but more than often they are not involved in the decisionmaking processes, leaving them vulnerable to unfair and inequitable forest management policies and practices, putting them at risk. Knowing this alone is not enough to protect the forests and the people that depend on them. The government needs to engage with the forest communities.
Through a series of four workshops with the same participants, the RLG is making sure to respond to real problems identified by the RLG members through training. Mr. Lattanavongkot has experienced the hands-on learning personally: “From participating in these workshops, we learned how to talk to communities; we then returned home, met with the people and actually collected information about the issues important to them. But we did not only meet with the people, we understood how to be equitable in our approach, reaching out to women and other community members with less of a voice.”
The goal of the RLG is to highlight the importance of equity in decision-making processes, from start to finish, and the extended training is allowing that to happen. The result is an important shift in attitude towards forestry governance and policy-making at the provincial level. Forestry officials now understand better how to engage and interact with community members, making their participation more impactful and protecting the forests a shared objective important to everyone.
Mr. Lattanavongkot’s comments reflect this deepened understanding of equity’s importance and how committed the RLG members have become to advancing it: “To foster participation is to guarantee their rights of access to natural resources. And, as we guarantee their rights, it brings about equity. And with equity and rights the people benefit and the resources are protected.”