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Biblioteca Power, Progress and Impoverishment: Plantations, Hydropower, Ecological Change and Community Transformation in Hinboun District, Lao PDR

Power, Progress and Impoverishment: Plantations, Hydropower, Ecological Change and Community Transformation in Hinboun District, Lao PDR

Power, Progress and Impoverishment: Plantations, Hydropower, Ecological Change and Community Transformation in Hinboun District, Lao PDR

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Date of publication
Dezembro 2007
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TAKEN FROM EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: This report documents the contemporary ecological, social and economic transformations occurring in one village in Lao PDR’s central Khammouane province under multiple sources of development-induced displacement. Rural development policy in Laos is focused on promoting rapid rural modernisation, to be achieved through foreign direct investments in two key resource sectors: hydropower and plantations. Laos’ land reform program is also a key component of the changes underway in the countryside, as swidden (or shifting) upland cultivation is targeted for stabilisation and elimination. The village of Ban Pak Veng, in Hinboun District, is introduced as a village experiencing downstream effects from the Theun Hinboun Power Company (THPC), a major inter-basin diversion hydropower project in Laos. The Mitigation and Compensation Program (MCP) of THPC as operationalised in Ban Pak Veng is documented and evaluated. Specific attention is given to downstream, wet-season flooding effects on the middle-to-lower Hinboun River, and the resultant post-2001 loss of wet rice production capability in Ban Pak Veng. THPC’s program to reconstruct rice paddy production capabilities in Ban Pak Veng through dry season agriculture are evaluated, and situated within the complex internal political situation in the village. This is followed by analysis of the effectiveness of THPC’s cash crop diversification and livelihood promotional program under the MCP. The report documents a series of disruptive ecological transformations linked to hydrological changes in the Hinboun River, which are negatively affecting villager livelihoods. These include effects on fisheries, riverside gardens, livestock and human health, and village housing. The volatile political situation in Ban Pak Veng is linked to the nature of the underlying livelihood vulnerabilities, not necessarily a “lack of leadership” in the village. The first major displacement affecting villagers - involving a significant displacement-induced transition pushing villagers from lowland paddy farming into upland swidden rice cultivation is outlined. A cascading set of linkages are described between the Nam Theun II inter-basin transfer hydropower project, the Theun-Hinboun Expansion Project at Nam Gnouang 8, and the THPC proposal for full resettlement of Ban Pak Veng in 2010. The second major section of this report completes the analysis of an ecological ‘double displacement’ effect underway in Pak Veng village. This second set of displacements is the result of a state-led land reform program linked to the concession-based plantation forestry operations of Oji-Laos Plantation Forestry Ltd. (LPFL). Through the land reform program, village degraded forests, which are crucial for village food security and swidden production, have been zoned for industrial plantation production and bulldozed. The nature of the trade-off to villager’s face is outlined. That is, between short-term rice sufficiency, and long term livelihoods into which villagers are forced. The Oji-LPFL program to pay cash compensation to villagers to cut down their own forests in return for cash income and access to productive swidden land is outlined, and the nature of the trade-offs for villagers are described. It is forwarded that, contrary to their public statements, neither THPC nor Oji-LPFL are currently meeting their obligations to account for the full extent of their environmental externalities upon vulnerable villagers in Hinboun District. The last section of this report follows this complex set of linkages between ecological degradation and village social-economy to its conclusion. The drivers and outcomes of cross-border migration of the majority of the young people from Ban Pak Veng into the illegal migrant labour market in Thailand are documented. Remittances from this migration however are having many implications for village life, as financial flows from village youth are in some cases being invested by their parents back into productive agricultural technologies, including smallholder rubber plantations. It is suggested that the multiple forces of ecological change, and trans-national enclosure of common property in Ban Pak Veng will rapidly transform the current system of common property rights in the village. Ultimately, a breakdown of common property rights to land and forests, and a steady decline in the natural resource base is likely. In its place may be a new regime of individual household and corporate-based accumulation, cash cropping and migrant labour. The future may bring some opportunities, but also, as a result of continued resource development in hydropower and industrial plantations, new and intensified sources of impoverishment and vulnerability for the people of Ban Pak Veng.

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