The Greater Mekong region, once the world’s most densely forested area, has lost a third of its natural forest cover and will lose another 15-30 million hectares by 2030 unless action is taken immediately, including protecting and restoring natural forests and promoting community-led sustainable forest management and trade, WWF said in a new report released today.
“Pulse of the Forest” showcases both the threats and the potential for the forests of the Greater Mekong region, which consists of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The region is one of 11 global deforestation fronts – areas that in the coming decades are projected to be responsible for up to 80 per cent of the world’s forest loss. These five countries could account for 17 percent – or 30 million hectares – of global deforestation by 2030 unless serious action is taken.
“The Greater Mekong’s forests are turbocharged engines driving the economies and the ecosystems of Asia but they are being lost at an alarming rate and we have to change our approach to managing them,” said Thibault Ledecq, Regional Forest Coordinator, WWF-Greater Mekong. “The people and projects detailed in this report prove there is hope and it is possible to earn a good living while protecting the forests, wildlife and benefits of healthy ecosystems.”
The region is a laboratory for some of the most innovative community based approaches to conserving forests. The Forest Pulse report highlights their stories:
- Smallholders in Vietnam’s Hue Province have more than doubled their income from Forest Stewardship Council certified acacia through a unique partnership with IKEA and Scansia Pacific.
- Hey Mer, used to watch in desperation as forests disappeared around her Myanmar village. Now she is hoping to become part of history as Myanmar aims to be the first country on Earth to demonstrate that their rubber is deforestation free.
- In Cambodia’s Eastern Plains Landscape, Han Sahkan is part of a Community Protected Area (CPA) whose members protect the forests from wildlife poachers and illegal loggers while replanting hardwood trees and earning income from honey, resin and mushroom collection;
- Community members in Laos have become the first in the country to receive FSC certification and one farmer has more than tripled his income since switching from farming and fishing to rattan production. In addition, wildlife numbers have increased and conflict between humans and animals has decreased;
- In Thailand’s Kui Buri National Park, an innovative partnership between plantation workers, park staff, local businesses and WWF has resulted in reduced encroachment in the park, a dramatic reduction in elephant deaths and the introduction of high tech tools to protect wildlife.
Over 2,200 new species of vertebrates and vascular plants have been discovered in the forests of the Greater Mekong in the past 20 years. In addition to hosting tigers, elephants, bears and Saola, the Greater Mekong forests provide clean drinking water for tens of millions of people and protect dozen of rivers, including the Mekong itself, which produces over 4.5 million tonnes of fish each year. Forests here also provide cloud cover and moisture to reduce the impacts of drought and clean water sources for drinking, irrigation and cattle raising.
But degradation from agricultural expansion, rubber plantations, legal and illegal logging and construction of roads, dams and other infrastructure are taking a huge toll on the forests. The result is lost incomes, poor health, mudslides that kill hundreds, and weather impacts from climate change. Ironically, agriculture is also totally reliant on forests for crop and plant diversity along with healthy water supplies.
The report gives a detailed overview of the status of these forests and outlines recommendations by WWF to ensure the survival of the Greater Mekong’s forests, including:
- A recognition from governments, business leaders and the public of the value of forests to clean water, stock carbon, human health and livelihoods and the need to protect them;
- Agreement from government leaders and businesses to put responsible forestry at the heart of their timber supply chains ;
- Businesses to commit and implement zero deforestation supply chain approach
- A demand from consumers and manufacturers for deforestation free products that respect and support community based industries;
- Mapping High Conservation Value Forests and understanding forest landscapes in order to better plan where agriculture, development and plantations are placed and avoid damaging critical habitat;
- Clear laws for sustainable forestry and public private partnerships;
- More innovation to help communities add value (thus increasing income) to sustainable forest products.
“We shouldn’t wait around for others to act,” Ledecq says. “The future of the Mekong’s forests is in all of our hands.”
About WWF Greater Mekong: The Greater Mekong is home to some of the planet’s most endangered wild species, including the tiger, saola, Asian elephant, Mekong dolphin and Mekong giant catfish. A total 2,409 new species of plants, birds, mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles have been discovered in the Greater Mekong since 1997. WWF-Greater Mekong works on conservation initiatives through country programmes in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. WWF-Greater Mekong’s mission is a future where humans live in harmony with nature. To learn more about WWF’s activities, please visit us at www.panda.org/greatermekong