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SAFE Ecosystems Project concluded

Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Thongphat Vongmany, other senior government officials and other stakeholders joined with UNDP yesterday for the Final Steering Committee Meeting held in Vientiane to close the GEF-supported SAFE Ecosystems Project.

Launched in May 2016, the SAFE Ecosystems project has been funded by Global Environment Facility (GEF), supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by the Department of Forestry under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The project was implemented in five target districts of Savannakhet Province which possesses vast areas of Dry Dipterocarp Forest.

The project objective was to demonstrate sustainable land and forest management in the forested landscape of Savannakhet to secure the critical wildlife habitats, conserve biodiversity and maintain a continuous flow of multiple services including quality water provision and flood prevention.

Dry Dipterocarp Forest ecosystems are recognized as being globally important (as part of the Central Indochina Dry Forests ecoregion of the WWF Global 200 Ecoregions) and as habitat for several globally significant and threatened species.

They are also nationally important for their provision of ecosystem services (water supply, sustainable timber and non-timber forests products, and carbon sequestration) that benefit the people of the Lao PDR.

After six years of implementation, and despite ongoing COVID-19 restrictions since 2020, government staff from the Department of Forestry, the Provincial and District Agriculture and Forestry Offices, as well as UNDP have worked collaboratively to achieve project outcomes. The most significant of these has been the creation of the newest National Protected Area as the National Eld’s Deer Sanctuary which spans 130,745 ha across the Dry Dipterocarp Forest landscape of Savannakhet.

Other notable outcomes from the SAFE Ecosystems Project included:

Development of a Decision Support System which has increased access of environment and natural resources to both policy makers and decision makers in Savannakhet Province.

Enhanced public awareness on environment and protection of endangered wildlife species with construction of Eld’s Deer public monuments and community engagements which reduced illegal forest crime and increased the Eld’s deer population from approximately 70 individuals to over 170 during the project implementation period.

Enhanced capacity of communities in 16 villages to produce over 400,000 tree seedlings and participate in forest management both for conservation.

The development of two ecotourism sites contributing to increased numbers of tourists visiting the sites which enabled local communities to generate incomes from ecotourism related activities prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capacity building of community rangers to participate in the management of protected areas resulting in reduced forest and wildlife crimes.

Implementation of community conservation contracts enhancing the capacity of Village Development Committees to manage resources at the local level and improve livelihoods through various livelihoods initiatives (such as SRI rice production, home gardening and animal husbandry).

Ms Ricarda Rieger, Resident Representative of UNDP in the Lao PDR emphasized, “On the final day of the SAFE Ecosystems Project, the results of years of inputs and activities supporting the conservation of the Dry Dipterocarp Forest landscape are taking shape.” She added, “As the country engages in post-pandemic recovery, eco-tourism, SRI Rice Production and innovative financing measures initiated by the project will be vital towards supporting ongoing sustainability and protection of the Dry Dipterocarp Forest.”

Vice Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Thongphat Vongmany stated, “We are very pleased with the results of the project and how it has been able to support the protection of the Eld’s Deer and other wildlife species in Savannakhet Province.” He added, “All the Government staff at both the Central level and Savannakhet Province, as well as the UNDP Technical Assistance should be commended for what they have been able to accomplish over the past six years.”

Source: Lao News Agency