Power, Progress, and Impoverishment

Keith Barney, York University
Thursday, June 14, 2007

Plantations, Hydropower, Ecological Change and Community Transformation in Hinboun District, Lao PDR

From 2004-2006 Keith Barney was in Laos to investigate the effects of industrial tree plantations upon rural livelihoods. In cooperation with the National University of Laos and provincial forestry authorities, Mr. Barney selected a rural village in Hinboun District as his primary field site. This village, Ban Pak Veng, is located within a plantation concession zone awarded to BGA-Oji Laos Plantation Forestry Ltd. (LPFL). After some time in the village, Barney learned that the plantation project was only one part of a much more complex story, as this village has also been affected by the Theun-Hinboun hydropower project.

Barney found that the flooding from Theun-Hinboun has made it impossible for villagers in Ban Pak Veng to plant their staple crop - wet-season rice paddy - along the banks of the Hinboun River. As a result, Pak Veng villagers have had to shift more directly into planting dry rice in cleared village forests, through upland, rotational swidden cultivation.

Completing the "double displacement" effect, in 2001 600 hectares of these village-managed forests - which in fact are mixed agro-forestry production systems producing rice and a wide range of crucial non-timber forest products - were identified as ‘degraded' through the state Land and Forest Allocation process and a concession to develop eucalyptus plantations was awarded to BGA-Oji Laos Plantation Forestry Ltd. Very limited compensation has been offered to Pak Veng villages for their land, amounting to $1 per hectare per year over the 50 year concession agreement. If all 600 hectares of this zoned land in Ban Pak Veng is developed into plantations, villagers will lose all of their remaining upland agricultural land and access to essential forest products. The effects would be a severe and unjust impoverishment of this community, which has already been affected from the uncompensated impacts of the Theun-Hinboun project.

This comprehensive report documents the "double displacement" effects of the Theun-Hinboun Hydropower Project and the Oji Plantation on the villagers of Ban Pak Veng.