Land Use and Livelihood in Laos:
From Field Studies on Forestry, Agriculture and Plant Resource Management
HIROTA Isao, HYAKUMURA Kimihiko, OCHIAI Yukino, YOKOYAMA Satoshi and KONO Yasuyuki
Concerning the rural life in Laos, many ethnic groups currently adopt their own land use system and practice various subsistence activities depending upon the natural environmental conditions of each place. This is a notable feature of rural Laos. In particular, farmers in Laos are commonly engaged in swidden agriculture for food production and hunting animals and gathering plants for domestic use, while in other areas in mainland Southeast Asia, such as northern Vietnam and Yunnan Province of China, these traditional activities are rarely found, even though the same ethnic groups inhabit in both areas. Moreover, many farmers in Laos are still occupied in self-sufficient agriculture by using indigenous practices, in spite the commercial and modern agriculture have been developing in the surrounded areas.
The geographical features of mountains and low population pressure can account for the maintenance of traditional agriculture in Laos. Probably, insufficient infrastructure development and low influence of government leading for modernization could be considerable obstacle for Laotian farmers to engage marketable and intensive agriculture. These may be also the reasons why wide ranged land use system and subsistence activities are preserved in the current rural Laos.
However, one can hardly imagine that this situation should continue in the future. Actually, after Chintanakan-mai, the new way of thinking policy, has been adopted in 1986, rural life in Laos has highly changed: for example, land-forest allocation program has carried out and commercial farming of new cash crops has introduced. Also, another question to consider is addressed: who is the real actor of these changes? It is estimated that many of the changes had risen not by domestic peopleís own initiatives but by outsiderís guidance and suggestions. Thus, actions of foreign governmental and nongovernmental organizations and private companies have made a huge impact on many aspects of political and economical issues of all over the regions in Laos.
How we should expect the future of rural Laos? Is it going to move to the direction of centralized and standardized situation of northern Vietnam and Yunnan Province, or create a unique style to maintain its diversity and own characteristics? However, unfortunately, few reports on Laotian rural life are available. Therefore, based on the field surveys in the forest and farmland, this panel provides three topics, 1) plant uses for minor subsistence, 2) changes in land-forest use and 3) relationships between ethnic groups and occupation structure, to discuss about the close interaction between land, biological resources and people in Laos. We aim to argue the past, present and future of rural life in Laos from the comparative views with surrounding areas of the mainland Southeast Asia.