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FAO standards suggest Laos’ forest cover exceeds 70 percent

Forest criteria standards imposed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) suggest that forest cover in Laos now exceeds 70 percent, a senior government official has said.
Using the FAO’s standards, this means Laos has already achieved its target to increase forest cover to 70 percent by 2020, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Dr Lien Thikeo told local media last week.
He made the comment in response to a question put during a press conference at his ministry when the minister announced plans to mark World Wood Day on March 29-31.
Director General of the Forestry Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr Sousath Xayakoummane explained that FAO’s standards were lower than those set by Laos, which meant Laos had already achieved 70 percent forest cover if using FAO’s standards.
Lao standards stipulate that trees have to be at least 5 metres tall on an area of 0.5 hectares or more to be categorised as forest.
“But FAO’s required tree height is less, although the required area starts from a similar 0.5 hectares,” he told Vientiane Times.
The government is committed to using Lao standards and increasing the nation’s forest cover from the 58 percent (according to a satellite survey in 2015) to 70 percent in 2020.
The director supported Dr Lien’s comment that the target of 70 percent forest cover using Lao standards is ‘achievable’.
Three main measures to achieve this target were identified in the National Forest Strategy that was promulgated in 2005.
These comprise rehabilitating 6 million hectares of degraded forest, planting industrial trees on 500,000 hectares, and protecting existing forests from further logging.
Action has been taken to protect the 6 million hectares of degraded forest to enable them to regrow or rehabilitate naturally.
“Degraded forests can regrow naturally over three to five years,” Mr Sousath said.
In addition, industrial trees such as eucalyptus, rubber and kathinnalong have been planted on 480,000 hectares out of the targeted 500,000 hectares.
“Taking into consideration the regrowth of degraded forests and the planting of industrial trees, forest cover is likely to exceed the 58 percent that was surveyed in 2015,” Mr Sousath said.
To promote industrial tree planting on the remaining 20,000 hectares, authorities in charge have asked the government to lift suspensions on new land concessions for plantation projects, which were imposed in 2012. But new rubber plantation projects will continue to be suspended.
The agreement was reached at a recent national meeting of the agriculture, forestry and rural development sector.
“We will submit the proposal to the government for consideration,” the director said.
The 500,000 hectares allocated for industrial tree plantations are not included in the three categories of forest – conservation forest, protected forest, and production forest. Production forest is woodland where commercial logging is permitted.
Mr Sousath said authorities in charge also agreed to encourage the private sector to plant trees on 600,000 hectares of degraded forest, located inside production forests, after learning that these areas could not regrow and recover naturally.
Asked if the 70 percent target might not be sustainable given that commercial logging in the 3.1 million hectares of production forest, as well as logging in the 500,000 hectares of industrial plantations, is permitted, the director said it could result in a minor decrease.
He explained that logging in production forests is permitted only in a sustainable manner.
In this regard, only 4-7 cubic metres of wood may be cut in one hectare of woodland, which is required to have at least 70 cubic metres of timber.
“If one hectare of production forest has less than 70 cubic metres, logging is prohibited,” Mr Sousath said, adding that logging in the same area could resume 15 years later to give the trees time to regrow.
He said that the 500,000 hectares earmarked for industrial tree plantations represented just 3 percent of the 70 percent or 16.5 million hectares.
But not all the trees in industrial plantations will mature at the same time, so logging will  take place from time to time and result in a minor decrease.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update
March 28,

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