Midwest Map Girl in Laos Pt 4

Preserving Land and Resources

The villagers in rural parts of Laos are a self-sustaining people.  TABI (The Agricultural and Biodiversity Initiative) and pFALUPAM (participatory Forest and Agricultural Land Use Planning Allocation Management) are working together in order to engage and educate villages on various types of land use, such as crop rotation and slash/burn methods.  It’s a pretty intensive process – maps are used to identify current land use based on satellite imagery.  Area used by the villagers are then sectioned off based on geography and are assigned a proposed land use pattern.  Workers from TABI and pFALUPAM spend weeks at a time in the field gathering information about the village, villagers, and the areas they use to provide for themselves.  The group tries to reach at least 7 areas per village so the soil and biodiversity of the area has a chance to replenish itself, making the villagers more successful and sustainable over time.

After our meeting this morning, I got to visit a village in the Chomphet district.  Below are some pictures I captured along the way:

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Midwest Map Girl in Laos Pt 3

Party at night, y’all

As I mentioned in my first post, the City of Vientiane doesn’t really catch its game ’til after the sun goes down.  I could not believe the amount of food – there is food EVERYWHERE.  I’m not just talking about restaurants and bars – I’m talking about food stands with fresh produce, street carts with fruit smoothies (very popular here), entire streets lined with vendors selling whatever skewered meat you can imagine.  The smell of food combined with the smell of charcoal grills used to cook the food was beyond words.

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Midwest Map Girl in Laos Pt 2

My first full day in Laos was a busy one.  The day was highlighted by a trip to the Theun-Hinboun Power Company, nestled in the valley of the Nam Kading National Biodiversity Conservation Area.  The trip was a little over 4 hours on one of the craziest roads I’ve been on – pretty much a two-lane highway with the villagers’ shops and homes within feet of the road.  There we tanker trucks, motorcycles, kids on bikes, cattle, goats, cars, trucks, and SUVs.  As night fell, children could be seen in the ditches catching frogs to be sold at their family’s shop the next day.  There was a lot of burning to clear dead grass and weeds in preparation for the rainy season.

The meeting included a number of people from many organizations, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the World Wildlife Fund, and representatives of the hydropower company.  The goal of the  meeting was to discuss the relocation of the villagers displaced by the reservoir powering the hydro dam, getting them set up with a functional land use pattern that allowed the villagers to have their own land, as well as access to the public lands from which they gather the resources they need.  Although the meeting was held in traditional Lao, I fully believe it was one of the more productive meetings I have ever been to.

The ride back was as exciting as the ride there.  Since we had arrived late the evening prior, I did not get to appreciate the amazing views of the mountains or the winding road we had to take in and out of the valley.  The road was full of tight blind curves, slow-moving tankers, trucks that had overheated, large boulders in the middle of the road, and random patches of gravel and roadwork.  When we got to the top, we had a chance to stop and take some pictures of the breathtaking scenery.

Above:  children at their family’s shop along the road; live fish in a barrel; fried fish.

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Midwest Map Girl in Laos

laossunset

The sun sets on my first night in Laos.  From the balcony of my hotel room, I smell the charcoal and meat cooking at the home below me.  To my right, there’s a rooster crowing.  The weather is warm and humid; the air is thick with smog.  Nights are when this city comes alive.  Food vendors, ex-pats, locals, and street vendors gather on every open  sidewalk in the city.  There is a night market along the Mekong River selling everything from toys to knock-off clothing and shoes.  In a place where you don’t the language, it feels incredibly quiet despite all the excitement around you.