ADB, GMS Countries Seek Community Support to Conserve Threatened Forests

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting the governments of Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) and Viet Nam in a community-driven initiative to conserve more than 1.9 million hectares of threatened forest land, home to over 170,000 mostly poor, ethnic minority people.

ADB's Board of Directors approved loan and grant funds totaling $69 million equivalent for the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Project, which follows a series of successful pilot conservation activities carried out earlier by GMS countries.

"It marks the first investment to emerge from the pilot phase and provides a model for expanded and sustained local community participation in the management of these vital natural resources," said Pavit Ramachandran, Environment Specialist (Regional Cooperation) in ADB's Southeast Asia Department.

The richly diverse forest regions have come under increasing pressure as a result of activities such as regional hydropower development, road construction, mining and plantation agriculture. They are also increasingly vulnerable to the onset of extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. Restoring these habitats is essential to preserve critical environment services and to safeguard the livelihoods of poor, upland farmers and indigenous communities living in 56 communes and 69 villages in the three countries.

The project will include the planting of native trees and other plants to restore habitats in over 19,000 hectares of degraded forest land. It will also raise the capacity of national and provincial agencies and community-level groups to plan and sustainably manage forests, while supporting security of land tenure for poor households and ethnic minority groups dependent on forest resources. Women will be an integral part of the labor teams carrying out the restoration work, while more than 4,770 households and over 4,000 farmers will receive cash and technical support for livelihood enhancements.

"The pilot activities have shown that coupling conservation with direct livelihood improvements is feasible, and a decentralized community-oriented approach to resource management offers the best chance of success," said Mr. Ramachandran.

The project will also support small-scale community infrastructure with funds going to communes and villages for potable water, sanitation, and waste management improvements, as well as upgrades of market access roads. Village and commune development fund mechanisms will be utilized to receive payments to support carbon sequestration activities, including reforestation.

ADB's assistance for sustainable forest management practices should also help encourage long term finance for future conservation projects in the GMS, with expanded community involvement.

The funding includes a 32-year loan to Viet Nam of $30 million equivalent from ADB's concessional Asian Development Fund, including a grace period of 8 years, with an annual interest rate of 1% during the grace period, and 1.5% for the balance of the term. The governments of Cambodia and Lao PDR will receive grants of up to $19 million and $20 million, respectively, also from concessional resources. The three governments will collectively inject $5.63 million equivalent, with beneficiaries providing in-kind contributions totaling $2.14 million, for a total project cost of almost $77 million.

The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Cambodia; the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in the Lao PDR; and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Viet Nam will be the executing agencies for the project, which is due for completion in September 2019.