Expansion of Rubber Tree Plantation in Northern Laos : Economic and Environmental Consequences <Review>
JIDC_19-3_1.pdf 901 KB
Rubber trees have been planted in the Northern Province of Laos since the mid-1990s, with tapping beginning in early 2000s. Consequently, livelihoods in the upland of northern Laos have rapidly moved away from subsistence shifting cultivation to rubber tree plantations. As a result, the total area of rubber tree plantations in Laos has drastically increased from 342 ha in the early 1990s to more than 25,000 ha in 2009. This paper reviews the factors that accelerated that rapid expansion of rubber tree plantation in northern Laos and its economic and environmental consequences and identifies key issues for future studies. The Land and Forest Allocation (LFA) program played a direct role in shaping the rubber landscape in northern Laos, but increased demand for natural rubber from China in response to stagnation of Chinese domestic supply was the most important factor behind the rapid expansion of rubber tree plantations in Northern Laos. Therefore, under current and likely future market conditions, investment in smallholder rubber production in Northern Laos appears financially profitable. However, this study found that the economic gains from rubber tree plantations came with losses in food production, soil quality degradation, and deforestation. Therefore, it is necessary to thoroughly analyze the behaviors of smallholder rubber production in Northern Laos to understand their labor allocation decisions for different livelihood activities, including forest extractions along the tract, to achieve the goal of promoting rubber tree plantations as a key strategy to alleviate poverty and as an instrument to eliminate shifting cultivation to conserve natural forests.