Date released
07 May 2018

A complex and contradictory policy environment is limiting participation by smallholders in the teak value chain in Laos. This research looks at the situation on the ground, through action research with grower groups in Luang Prabang Province, and calls for policy reform that recognises the reality faced by growers.

The Lao government has been encouraging smallholders to grow teak since the 1980s through policy incentives. Teak, which is native to Laos, is a high value timber, and farmers can make good income as well as supplying timber for industry and contributing to increased forest cover. However, parallel policies responding to international demands for sustainability and legality in the teak trade are making it very difficult for smallholders to participate in the teak industry in a legal way.

This paper is the result of research to investigate this situation and seek solutions, by a team that included members from the Australian National University in Canberra, and an independent Lao consultant.

The paper describes in detail the complex policy environment and how it evolved. Then, focusing on Luang Prabang Province, it examines the reality on the ground. The teak plantations were mapped using aerial photography, and the team carried out action research with grower groups to understand the real challenges they face in harvesting and marketing their timber, and to work with them to find solutions.

The province has over 15,000 hectares of teak plantations. The Luang Prabang Teak Program (LPTP), a partner in this project, has been supporting the local teak sector, and participation by smallholders, since 2008. Registration of plantations, and accreditation from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), are examples of the challenges facing smallholder growers which the LPTP is trying to address. The paper concludes with a recommendation that policymakers do not treat smallholders as a homogeneous group, but recognise their individual motivations and aspirations.

Reference: H.F. Smith, S. Ling and K. Boer (2017) Teak plantation smallholders in Lao PDR: what influences compliance with plantation regulations? Australian Forestry, Vol. 80, No. 3, pp. 178–187. DOI: 10.1080/00049158.2017.1321520

The open access publication of the above paper is part of wider initiative by ACIAR to disseminate the results of its projects as widely as possible. The move towards supporting open access is in line with ACIAR’s thinking on free and fair knowledge sharing in pursuit of more productive and sustainable agricultural systems.