Revealing environmental income in rural livelihoods: evidence from four villages in Lao PDR

TitleRevealing environmental income in rural livelihoods: evidence from four villages in Lao PDR
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsVan_der_Meer_Simo A, Kanowski P, Barney K
Secondary TitleForests Trees and Livelihoods
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Key themesEnvironment, MigrationLabour, Policy-law

Policies in Lao PDR encourage farmers to transition from shifting to sedentary agriculture, and the conversion of ‘degraded’ forest to agricultural and plantation concessions. As access to natural resources becomes increasingly contested in these contexts, it is helpful to better understand the economic value of environmental resources, including ‘degraded’ forests, for rural livelihoods. The ‘environmental income’ from these environmental resources remains underappreciated, in part because of methodological limitations, and is reflected in policy decisions favouring conversion of this natural capital to various forms of agricultural concession. This study draws from immersive fieldwork in four villages in Lao PDR to provide more rigorous evidence about the value of natural capital to rural households. Results show that environmental income was important to all wealth classes of rural households, averaging 23% of total annual household livelihood income. Our findings are consistent with global assessments, help explain why rural Lao people contest development that compromises the natural capital from which they derive environmental income, and emphasise the importance of recognising environmental income in land use and development policies and programmes in Lao PDR.


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Document Type

Journal Article


Overall relevance: 

The paper explores environmental incomes and their impact on rural livelihoods using evidence from four villages in Lao PDR. The authors mention how earlier studies earlier suggest that market integration allows villagers to diversify their incomes away from relying on declining and degrading forest, but they raise the point that no study has clarified the value of environmental incomes to rural households in Laos. The research asks: (i) What is the role of environmental income in household income portfolios in the rural Laos case communities

Key Themes: 
  • Land and the environment: pollution, deforestation, climate change, conservation zoning - The study shows environmental income comprising an average 23% of total livelihood income. However, this does not mean that these incomes will be the foundation of future Lao rural livelihoods, or the platform for national economic development.
  • Agrarian change and land: Migration and labour - While poor households are relatively more dependent on environmental services, high income households derive a higher absolute environmental income than their poorer fellow villagers.
  • Land policy and land law - The value of the environment to rural livelihoods should be an issue of greater concern and more rigorous study in the context of land and development policies and programs in Laos. It is important for both governments and investors to recognize the significance of “hidden” environmental income for rural livelihoods and reflect this in their policies.
Research basis: 

The four village case studies involved a household survey, in-depth conversations, participatory activities, and a review of secondary literature. The methodology was approved the Australian National University’s Human Ethics Committee. The authors noted challenges with collecting reliable information on the use and sale of NTFPs through surveying. This study was confined by resource constraints to around eight weeks in each village. Data was collected at different times during the year to provide information about intra-annual variability in environmental incomes. (Provided by Koun Xinh)