Improving local livelihoods in Paksong through Cardamon planting: the experience of village-based forest rehabilitation in Lao PDR

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The Forestry Strategy 2020 of Lao PDR, adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in July 2005, set the objective of increasing forest cover from 47% to 70% by 2020. The Strategy aims to generate a sustainable supply of forest products, preserve unique and threatened habitats, and promote environmental conservation and protection. The project site in Paksong, where many villages are identified as poverty-stricken communities, forests that play an important role in sustaining local livelihoods. as most of these communities depend on forest resources for food, fuelwood, and materials. This dependence on forest resources has posed a severe threat to forests across the country, where deforestation and forest degradation in the area remain a great challenge and continue to hinder the sustainable management of forest ecosystems and the sustainable development of local communities. Hence, it has become a common goal and task of the Central and Provincial governments to reverse the trend of deforestation and forest degradation by taking effective measures, including strengthening land-use planning, promoting the rehabilitation of degraded forests, and improving the livelihoods of local communities engaged in forest management. Now in Paksong, AFoCO is helping to revitalize communities through the project on Village-Based Forest Rehabilitation in Lao PDR, one of the three restoration projects under the AFoCO Landmark Program.

The overall objective of the project is to increase forest cover by the restoration of degraded forest areas, strengthen the capabilities of government agencies and local authorities, including villagers, in implementing national forest rehabilitation programs, and contribute to poverty reduction by providing direct incomes to local people, particularly the poor. The project site (pictured on the left) has a total area of 600 ha which falls under state forest land and is currently managed as protection forests. The area includes 40 ha for forest plantation, 160 ha for enrichment planting, and the remaining 400 ha for natural regeneration.

The project supported the villagers to produce tree seedlings and NTFPs seedlings by providing direct income to local people. In order to promote people’s livelihood, the project encourages villagers to produce and plant Cardamom seedlings. The project hopes to contribute to enriching the knowledge in seed propagation.

Seedling production

The villagers tested the seedling production by division of the rhizomes, they took the clumps from the Cardamom plantation, and removed or cut some leaf, for the vegetative propagation, rhizomes from large clumps of the growing plant are taken out, separated into small clumps, and planted in prepared bags, in which seedlings supported by stakes and mulched in the nursery. The villagers are always keeping track of their watering to keep the beds moist but not overloaded with water because too much watering is not good. Regular weeding, removal of old and dying leafy shoots, regulating the shade is another daily job. The experiments and propagation by rhizomes, found to be as good as it should be, in one clump can break 3-5 clumps, the villagers succeeded in producing a total of 30,000 seedlings.

Planting and maintenance

In Paksong, the villagers planted Cardamon from June to July during the monsoon season, as light drizzles and cloudy days are ideal conditions for planting Cardamon. The villagers planted 10,000 Cardamom seedlings in the forest and plantation garden. In the forest, seedlings were planted with a spacing of 1.5m*2m to enrich the forest resources where the villagers can harvest in the next 3 years. In the plantation garden, seedlings were planted closer to one another with a spacing of 1m*1.5m so as to produce as many plants as possible and maximize income as a seed producer in the future.

Villagers always maintained the plantation garden through regular watering, weeding, adjusting the shade, and removal of old and dying shoots. Cardamoms in the forest were maintained twice a year in June and December, while they also conducted weeding around the clumps to remove old and dying shoots.

Cardamom harvesting

Cardamom plants start bearing fruits in the second and third year of planting. The fruits would mature in 35 to 45-day intervals, with 5 to 6 pickings. Normally, the harvesting season for Cardamom is from October to November. However, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, harvesting starts from August to September and continues till February to March, whereas in Karnataka, harvesting begins in July to August and continues up to December to January. Here, capsules should be harvested when the fruits are ripe. Since over-mature Cardamom fruits split on dry grounds, whereas the unripe Cardamom fruits shrivel when conditions are dry. Currently, Cardamom that the villagers planted are only one and half years, and the fruit-bearing has yet to take place. Before harvesting, villagers will be attending training courses on sustainable harvesting practices.

Villager group in Paksong district

Moving forward

Currently, the project is preparing the next phase to produce more seedlings and expand the plantation area and village groups, while also preparing training for the villagers in sustainable harvesting, sorting and grading training the dried Cardamom capsules, and maintaining the dried capsules. The next step is to find markets to export the dried seeds and seedlings, thereafter successfully providing the villagers and locals with direct income.

Contributed by Tongngern Phongsavath, Local Project Coordinator for AFoCO/008/2014