Partnering for Sustainable Foresty in Laos
Degradation and fragmentation of forests in Laos has accelerated over the past decade, with negative repercussions for communities, biodiversity and the climate. The EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Action Plan of 2003 invites major wood-producing countries in the tropics to enter into bilateral Voluntary Partnership Agreements (VPAs) for trade in verifiable, legally produced wood. Such bilateral agreements can help countries like Laos continue to access the international market, while channelling more revenues into state budget and community pockets. For that to happen, the definition of ‘legal timber production’ in Laos must be developed in a participatory and transparent manner involving all forestry stakeholders.
Weak governance permits an opaque and corrupt forestry sector, meaning that local communities remain entrenched in poverty. The agricultural and forestry sectors account for approximately 33% of the country’s GNP, while employing 75% of the workforce*. Export of illegal timber, however, is at least five times the sanctioned volume, with unprocessed wood sold mostly to Thailand, Viet Nam, and China. Processed wood products are then sold to other countries, especially to Japan, the United States, and the European Union (EU). In parallel with increased deforestation in Laos (after Myanmar, the most forest-dense country in Southeast Asia), international demand for wood that is sustainably produced, legally harvested, and traceable to its source has also increased.
Due to the country's political history there is a lack of experience with participatory processes, especially between government agencies, businesses and non-profit associations. Given that the economic stakes are so high, the forestry sector is politically sensitive, highlighting power imbalances between provincial governments and the central government, as well as antagonism between the government and non-profit-associations. The forestry business sector has a few players that carry considerable influence. Results-oriented and trust-based cooperation in such complex, politically sensitive, multi-stakeholder settings require dialogue and collaboration skills. Despite differences in interest, most stakeholders recognize the importance of cooperating for more sustainable forestry management.
*National Forest Products Statistics, Lao PDR. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/ac778e/AC778E12.htm.
While some sector roles in the process are well defined (e.g., key players from the public and private sectors), others are still emerging and trying to understand how best to contribute (e.g., civil society, local communities, and unorganized private sectors actors). In a hierarchical context, finding common ground, articulating a shared vision, structuring communication and decision-making processes and designing processes that encourage commitment and ownership can be challenging. Before the Lao government initiated the FLEGT VPA process, stakeholders had little or no experience in engagement across sectors. Cross-sector understanding needed to be built.
Sometimes it is the first jointly achieved result that encourages actors to stay on board for a long collaboration journey requiring robust commitment from stakeholders and strong political will. In July 2014, the GIZ project “Support to the Lao EU-FLEGT process” (ProFLEGT) and Collective Leadership Institute (CLI) convened a group of Lao stakeholders for a workshop to build stakeholder collaboration skills and design a joint strategy. The complex system of stakeholders was present in the room with representatives from three ministries, the wood processing and furniture industries, civil society and academia. All stakeholders experienced the effects of co-creative planning. They also took ownership of the CLI’s proven dialogic change methodology to prioritize their engagement strategies and plan the FLEGT VPA process.
CLI facilitators implicitly used the Compass in planning their workshop. This was the way using the Compass achieved tangible results:
- It was not only the process of articulating a shared vision for forestry management in Laos, but literally drawing a picture of the future that created palpable resonance. After selected stakeholders from the groups presented the jointly consolidated vision it was adopted as a guiding document for the planning process (FUTURE POSSIBILITIES - Future orientation/decisiveness).
- In parallel, the group took a deep-dive into looking at the bigger picture as they jointly created a network actor map that helped them to define engagement strategies (WHOLENESS - contextuality).
- They learned about the delicate balance between administrative procedures, planning processes and the dialogic quality of the engagement of all relevant stakeholders (COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE).
- This enabled them to move towards engaging relevant stakeholders, planning the further process together (Process quality) and prioritizing collective action steps (ENGAGEMENT).
- The result was a process map for the coming months. On the final day of the workshop, the group presented the sustainable forestry vision and plan to high-level actors (FUTURE POSSIBILITIES - Future orientation/decisiveness).
- In addition to their vision, the group presented a vivid picture of a bus they had drawn, an analogy representing the cohesion that had been created among the stakeholders as well as the clarity in direction. The moment had come to see if everyone was “on the bus”. And they were! Everyone chose to sign their name to one person in the bus, including the high level actors in the ‘drivers’ seats (HUMANITY).
After these first essential steps, CLI continues to collaborate with GIZ ProFLEGT and Lao stakeholders on their journey toward a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU in the forestry sector.
“Lots of things happened at our cross-sector, tailor made training! Collective Leadership Institute’s concrete contributions helped make these trainings successful. They are a significant turning point in our Lao-EU FLEGT VPA process.”
– Phoxia Inthaboualy, Lao Ministry of Industry and Commerce
“It was one of the best workshops I have ever attended and I finally have a clearer picture of the direction we are going in our FLEGT VPA process.”
– Anisara Sombounkhan, Lao Ministry of Finance
“The Collective Leadership Institute’s Dialogic Change Model gives us a framework for a meaningful FLEGT VPA process.”
– Hongthong Sisavath, Village Focus International
“Our CLI workshop was a good start for Laos to work together for the FLEGT VPA process. On behalf of the private sector we are very happy and gained a lot of new skills and knowledge.”
– Somphavanh Seukpanya, Lao Wood Processing Association
“The Stakeholder Dialogues approach has effectively brought together different interest groups from Laos to start negotiating a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) for Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT). CLI’s methodologies equip stakeholder representatives with tools to engage on the basis of trust, develop solid and fruitful relationships and increasingly value others’ viewpoints."
– Marc Gross, Projektleiter GIZ project “Support to the Lao EU-FLEGT process” (ProFLEGT)
The image in this story is property of ProFLEGT.