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Gaur's track in Cat Tien National Park

Gilmour D.A., Nguyen V.S., Tsechelicha X. 2000.
Rehabilitation of degraded forest ecosystems in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, An overview
Conservation Issues in Asia April 2000.

The four lower Mekong countries of Cambodia, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (PDR), Thailand and Vietnam have suffered severe deforestation during the past 40 years. Precise figures are difficult to obtain, but the best estimates suggest that about nine million ha of forest was lost between 1980 and 1990 and that forest cover is continuing to be lost at a rate of about 1.7% per annum. An additional large but unknown area of forest was degraded because of a range of human activities. Much of the land deforested has been used for agriculture, but much has also been left in a degraded condition with greatly reduced productive and protective functions. It is estimated that there are currently more than 23 million ha of bare land that was previously forested in the four countries. Much of this would be suitable for rehabilitation. Forest policy in the four countries has shifted its focus from exploitation aimed at maximising financial returns, to sustainable management and protection. However, in Cambodia, this shift has barely begun, and the major challenge is to curtail illegal logging, and exercise effective control over concessionaires. As these policy shifts have been taking place in the forest sector, major economic transformations in the overall economies of all countries have also been occurring. The transformations have been designed to move from centrally planned to market economies. This has involved moving towards more decentralised institutional arrangements for managing resources, and in some cases more devolution of authority and responsibility. Allocation of agricultural and forest land from state control to private individuals, households, villages and groups has also been a feature of the recent changes. A policy vision has emerged in Lao PDR and Vietnam of substantial increases in forest cover during the coming one to two decades, and this has provided the basis for long term planning in the forest sector. Lao PDR is proposing to increase forest cover in the country from the present 47% to 70% by the year 2020. Vietnam is planning to establish 5 million ha of new forest, both plantations and naturally regenerated forest, within the coming 10 years. Part of the vision is also to stabilise or reduce the area of land under shifting cultivation, which is likely to have particular impacts on upland, generally ethnic minority, communities. In Thailand the government has signaled its intention of retaining most of the remaining forest (about 25% of the land area) as conservation or protection areas and of developing new partnerships with various stakeholder groups to rehabilitate large areas of degraded forests. Implicit within most of the programmesbeing planned are ideas that the outcomes should be based on:
• a sound understanding of experience of forest rehabilitation schemes compared to expectations;
• policies that prescribe principles and criteria for achieving ecologically and socio-economically sound
forest rehabilitation;
• institutional capacity to extend and support the application of these policies and practical approaches in
the field.
In most of SE Asia, each of these desirable conditions is either absent or weak. The planned forest rehabilitation programmes are new, large and involve multiple stakeholders and multiple sites. Implementing them is complex but there is little pre-existing experience and capacity. There is an urgent need to promote the development of policy, procedures and capacity that can guide rehabilitation programmes more effectively. Most experiences in rehabilitation of degraded forest ecosystems to date relate to the development of plantations of fast growing species for industrial purposes. An analysis of these experiences suggests that there are major technical and institutional issues to be addressed if future initiatives are to be successful. An important issue common throughout the region is that of tenure, particularly as it relates to access and use rights of natural resources. Ambiguities over tenure constrain the more active involvement of local communities in rehabilitation efforts. Related to this is the need to develop rapid but robust methods (i.e. sufficiently accurate and easy to apply) for participatory land use planning and land allocation.
A challenge to be addressed in the current macro-economic context is the question of payment for the provision of ecosystem services (such as biodiversity conservation, watershed protection and carbon sequestration) by the beneficiaries to the providers. The local communities (who are likely to be the local forest managers) certainly benefit from some ecosystem services, but the major beneficiaries of the services tend to be downstream. This can provide a justification for providing some form of subsidy to encourage local communities to become involved in rehabilitation activities.
Several issues have been identified that need to be addressed to improve both policy and practice relating to forest rehabilitation. Chief among these are:
• Improve techniques to characterise degraded land;
• Integrate socio-economic and environmental needs into forest rehabilitation initiatives;
• Incorporate forest rehabilitation into macro land use planning;
• Establish approaches and procedures in each country to achieve active participation of local
communities in forest rehabilitation activities (with particular emphasis on Land Use Planning, Land
Allocation and Forest Management);
• Develop improved low cost, robust options for Land Use Planning and Land Allocation;
• Develop national level operational guidelines to translate policy into practice;
• Carry out applied research work to improve species/site matching, particularly for indigenous species.
It would be advantageous to establish a process to take this initiative forward in a way that is relevant to each of the countries in the region, but in a way in which information and knowledge can be shared across the region.

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