Friday, 29 August 2014

Private sector agroforestry: enhancing farmers livelihoods


On a recent trip to Lao PDR to visit an innovative, private sector led and community-focused forestry project, ACIAR RPM, Tony Bartlett met a passionate young Australian forester. 

Richard Laity has been working in Lao PDR, primarily with Burapha Agroforestry Ltd, but also with the Luang Prabang Teak Project. Richard has a forestry degree from the Australian National University, but since graduation has spent most of his time working overseas – particularly in Laos and Solomon Islands. He is particularly passionate about using forestry systems, involving eucalypts and teak to improve the livelihoods of poor farmers.

Richard showed us examples of the company’s work to produce high quality eucalypt and acacia seedlings, as well as some very interesting and successful examples of agroforestry systems supported by the company. Of particular interest to Richard is research on biocontrol of the Eucalypt gall wasp pest which is devastating many eucalypt plantings in the Mekong region.


Richard Laity talks to ACIAR project partners          Why aren’t all the trees like this one?
  at Burapha nurser

Richard’s main work is leading Burapha Agroforestry’s program to expand its plantation estate in Laos. The company has 6000 hectares of Eucalypt and Acacia plantations, most of which have been established in the past 3 years. They plan to increase the total plantation estate to 60,000 hectares, with plantings around Vientiane and Saynabouri in southern Laos. Not your run-of-the-mill plantation development, Burapha is developing agroforestry style plantations that actively engage local communities. They put considerable effort into working with communities to develop agroforestry plantings on land rented from local people, but still allowing them to farm this land and receive income from participating in the management of the plantations.

The Burapha agroforestry model involves planting the trees in rows that are spaced 9 metres apart and then growing agricultural crops (such as rice or cassava) in between the trees. The plantations are grown on a 7 year rotation, with about 70% planted to Eucalyptus, 20% to Acacia and 10% to teak. The farmers who are engaged in these ventures get their land ploughed and access to a range of livelihood activities: site clearing; planting and maintenance; and processing of agricultural crops, such as cassava. Under this system, land is rented from households or the village community for a 30 year period. According to Richard, many households can manage about 3 hectares of agroforestry development each year. The company also facilitates markets for cassava, but retains ownership of the trees.

A wide spaced eucalypt agroforestry plantation with cassava


In Lao PDR, two thirds of households earn less than US$4,380 per year. An estimated 75% of households live in rural areas and depend on agriculture, with 27% of people living below the poverty line. Many farmers practice subsistence agriculture and have limited prospects for generating cash incomes. Under this agroforestry model, the average participating family will be earning about US$4,800 per year extra.
  • US$550/ha in the first year from management activities plus they produce about 900kg of rice
  • US$140/ha from plantation management and a further $900/ha from harvesting and drying cassava in the second year
The innovative agroforestry model used by Burapha Agroforestry has been well received by the Government of Lao PDR as a poverty alleviation mechanism.

Creating opportunities - Burapha Agroforestry is currently using small diameter eucalypt logs to make value added wood products at its sawmill and manufacturing factory near Vientiane and the products are sold in local and international markets. This is no mean feat, as in Australia eucalypt logs of this size would only be used for pulpwood. The company employs many local people, including women, in its factory.


Processing and manufacture of furniture from small eucalypt logs at Buraph


ACIAR projects

Author Tony Bartlett – Forestry RPM, ACIAR
 


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