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Closing ceremony and signing MOU on Development Cooperation between Luang Prabang PAFO and CHESH
On April 22, 2019, the Luang Prabang Provincial Department of Agriculture and Forestry Office (PAFO) in collaboration with CHESH Lao Program / CHESH Vietnam held a ceremony to review the research and development cooperation activities for the period 2016-2018 and renew a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the next phase.

Participating in the ceremony were 45 delegates representing communities located in the Phousung and Kuangsi watershed areas, Provincial and District People's Committees and functional departments of Muong Na, Xieng Nguen and Luang Prabang districts.

2016-2018 is the period to mark the extensive application of the CHESH Laos approach of the 1999-2015 period in customary law-based management and usage of natural resources and livelihood sovereignty. Accordingly, strategies related to the community rights to access, manage and use natural resources, practice local indigenous knowledge in land use planning and spiritual cultural rituals and customary laws were flexibly and effectively applied in eight village communities of Lao Loum, Khomu, Hmong and Lu ethnics in the Kuangsi watershed in three districts of Luang Prabang, Xieng Nguen and Muong Nan.

For the first time, the traditional village boundaries and 154 cultural-livelihood-ecological zones with a total area of ​​19,661.4 ha of eight village communities were clearly identified, measured and recognized by local authorities via official land use and land allocated maps. Among them, 40 spiritual sites-where communities annually organize religious rituals to worship the Nature’s Spirits (i.e. 'Phi Ho' and 'Tong Xenh') were officially recognized as the core areas of socio-economic-cultural and ecological development plan of the Kuangsi watershed. Co-management of natural resources has also been developed by local communities and authorities through an integration of customary laws and statutory provisions. Local communities have also self-identified plans to stabilize and improve their lives through an integration of shifting cultivation with conservation and enrichment of non-timber products on the allocated forest and land areas. Accordingly, hundreds of thousands of cardamoms seedlings, hundreds of natural beehives and farms of native variety vegetables have been invested by the families and initially gave positive results.

The achievements of the CHESH Laos Program over the past 20 years, particularly in the period of 2016-2018, have been highly appreciated by the provincial authorities. Mr. Xay Nha Phan - Director of PAFO said that the community-based approach of CHESH Lao, accordingly, all activities were discussed, decided and implemented by villagers have brought about real effectiveness. For example, nearly 10,000 hectares of forest and land in the Phousung area have been well managed and protected by the Hmong community in Long Lan village, while people's lives have been significantly improved through cultivation of diverse native vegetable species.

According to Cho Xy Zang - a prestigious elderly in Long Lan village, CHESH Lao supported his community to allocate forest land and plan land use in the period 1999-2005. So far, Long Lan's forest has been very well protected by the community. Several grazing areas have now become forests, while many wild animals such as deer and monkeys have begun to return.

To expand the achieved results and meet the actual needs in the coming years, PAFO and CHESH Vietnam signed a new MOU on cultural and community development for the period of 2019-2023. The goal of cooperation is to contribute to improving the capacity and livelihoods of local people in communities in Luang Prabang Province through the application of eco-agricultural cultivation and sustainable management of natural resources.

The 20 past years - a not yet long way of the CHESH Lao Program on the strategy of researching and supporting the development of communities in Luang Prabang but has left good imprints in the hearts and feelings of local people and officials. As Mr. Za Zi Zang – Village Chief of Long Lan village said: “The CHESH Lao project did not give us money but it helped us to have opportunities for self-determination and self-development.”
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