Trees, food and bombs in Laos

Published 30 January 2015 by Stora Enso
​In Laos, Stora Enso has found a model of cooperation with the locals that truly benefits both. The Group is clearing the land of unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War to plant eucalyptus, while also reserving some of the safe land for the locals’ rice fields.
In the Saravane and Savannakhet provinces of Southern Laos stands Stora Enso’s trial plantation project; a venture established in 2006 to test growing eucalyptus and acacia trees. The trial project is small in size – about 400 hectares – but the Group is planning to expand to 2 000 hectares. The project is not producing trees yet, but it definitely seems like an interesting test ground.

But it is a challenging environment. The districts where Stora Enso operates, area located in the heart of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – an area with a long history of warfare and hardship. Local communities are still suffering from the aftereffects of the Vietnam War.

“During the war, more than 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped over Laos. A big part of those bombs fell over the area right here” says Peter Fogde, Managing Director of Stora Enso Laos Plantations. Many of those bombs never exploded. As a result, the area is dangerous up to this day. Bombs and cluster bombs from the war still explode around Southern Laos each year, killing and injuring local villagers.

Trees and food

But bombs are not just a safety hazard – they also cause malnutrition. Local farmers practice shifting cultivation to grow rice and other food crops, but this method is dangerous, and does not provide enough rice to feed the villages. In places, digging for roots and cutting bamboo in the forest is the only way to find sustenance for most of the year.

In this kind of environment, conducting responsible business requires more than sweet talk. Stora Enso has come up with a unique model which promotes community development while enabling business.

“We set up plantations that produce both trees and food,” says Peter Fogde. “We do this by clearing away bombs, making space for food production and employing and training the local villagers. In Laos, this model is totally unique.”

Safety first

Stora Enso’s responsibility model in Laos is built from the ground up. Before planting any trees, the Group clears all unexploded bombs from the plantation area. As other plantation companies in Laos are not yet doing this, Stora Enso is a real pioneer in establishing safe territories.

For the local villagers, the plantations offer the possibility to grow food safely. But it has other benefits, too. Compared to the traditional shifting cultivation, the rice yields are better. And there is also nature to consider – if the locals have a safe place to grow food, they do no longer have to burn native forest, and thereby harm local biodiversity.

As Stora Enso’s plantation project is still a trial, one may wonder what will happen in the villages if the company one day decides to discontinue the project. However, the Group has already made a lasting impression on the area by cultivating skills, sharing know-how and clearing agricultural land of explosives. None of this can be taken away.

A benchmark for others

United Nations Development Programme UNDP has also noticed the positive impacts of Stora Enso’s work. According to UNDP, Stora Enso’s efforts to social development could be a best practice of foreign investment in Laos.

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