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Communities Forests Investments

Quotas, Powers, Patronage, and Illegal Rent-Seeking

The Political Economy and the Timber Trade in Southern Laos

By Ian G. Baird
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Forests are extremely important to the people of Laos. They are the basis for the livelihoods of most of those living in rural areas, especially the poor and Laos’ large population of indigenous peoples. Forests are also an important source of government revenue, and Lao forests are being increasingly recognized for the high levels of biodiversity that they support, including many rare and endemic species. They also provide various crucial ecosystem services. However, there are serious doubts—including from within the Lao government—about the sustainability of the country’s forestry industry. There are also concerns about the legal status of much of the Lao timber harvested and traded.
This study provides detailed information regarding the complex and interrelated factors associated with timber extraction and logging quotas, commercial rubber plantation development, and cross-border timber trade at the provincial and district levels in southern Laos. It begins by looking at the various links along the commodity chain, and how government officials—particularly forestry officials at the provincial and district levels—are able to personally benefit. The study covers the political economy of logging and the timber trade, as well as the different forms of patronage, clientalism, or illegal rent-seeking that affect the forest sector. Since the political dynamics shift from one type of logging quota to another, this issue is discussed in some detail.