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  • Wyss Academy

Can we turn back the tide of industrial farming?

When the Nam Tien Reservoir was established in Sayaboury Province to provide water for the rice farmers living downstream, the surrounding area was thick with forest. Many rare species of birds and animals could be found in this forest, which was also a source of fruits, nuts, herbs and mushrooms for local communities. In 2011, this area was considered the ideal place to establish the Elephant Conservation Centre. What has happened since then, however, represents a threat to the future of these iconic animals and the wellbeing of local people.  


During the past decade, a drastic transformation occurred in the landscape around the Nam Tien reservoir. Hundreds of hectares have been cleared to make way for the crops demanded by foreign investors. Despite being declared a ‘Protection Area’ by the local government, what was observed by researchers from the Wyss Academy in 2023 was the replacement of the natural vegetation by banana plantations drenched in pesticides, melon fields covered by kilometers of plastic sheeting, and several rows of cassava planted on rapidly eroding slopes.  


In order to find a solution to these problems, data was collected, maps were prepared, and several meetings were held. Different stakeholders agreed that the encroachment of the Nam Tien Protection Area had to stop, and the forest should be restored. The Provincial Governor issued instructions and established a task force. The Department responsible for Agriculture and Forestry has been given a leading role, while others responsible for Planning, Finance, the Environment and Public Security also have a part to play in this challenging endeavor.  


Banana plantation around the Nam Tien reservoir (24 Jan 2024) Photo Credit: Mongkon Duangkhiew/Wyss Academy for Nature

Efforts to restore the Nam Tien Protection Area have only just begun but the Wyss Academy is expediting the process in partnership with local, national and international experts. Furthermore, multi-stakeholder consultations are being carried out, representing an important step in boosting local collaboration, supporting data collection and analysis, and generating the needed knowledge about the region and the current issues. While the establishment of tree nurseries is a relatively simple task, the establishment of agreements with hundreds of land users requires sensitive negotiations and challenging decision making.


Can a newly restored forest provide local people with the same level of income they were getting from the banana plantations and melon fields established by foreign investors? This is one of the key questions for the coming work ahead of the Government and the Wyss Academy in the Nam Tien Protection Area. Although the encroachment of the forest is illegal, it has also generated employment opportunities that many families now rely on. Alternatives sources of income are needed, to protect and enrich nature rather than degrade and destroy it. The first steps in the long journey to develop and implement alternatives have been taken and will now continue with the involvement and active participation of local communities, government agencies and international researchers.

Watermelon farm around the Nam Tien reservoir invested by Chinese investor (24 Jan 2024) Photo Credit: Mongkon Duangkhiew/Wyss Academy for Nature

Co-design meeting (13 Dec 2024)


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