Balancing conservation and development in protected areas: A case study from Laos

Michelle Smith

    Research output: ThesisMasters Thesis

    424 Downloads (Pure)


    Achieving a balance between conservation, development and traditional cultures is a key challenge for protected area management in developing countries. Ongoing conflicts between poverty, access rights, political control and resource extraction have resulted in the failure of many protected areas to safeguard biodiversity. The formation of the Integrated Conservation and Development Projects (ICDPs) approach to protected area management was seen as the panacea to resolve these problems. However, ICDPs that have sought to reduce biodiversity loss through development of local people have had varied success. Limitations of ICDPs include lack of clear conservation and development linkages, strong governance and leadership as well as effective engagement with local residents. This thesis explored the potential to achieve a balance between conservation and development within occupied protected areas, using an in-depth case study of an enclave village in Laos, Southeast Asia. In Laos, communities have the rights to use and manage local resources within protected areas. This exploration of biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihood issues focused on one ethnic Brou village whose people have close historical ties to the land. The village (Kobong) is located within Nakai-Nam Theun (NNT) National Protected Area (NPA) in central Laos managed by the Nam Theun2 (NT2) Watershed Protection Management Authority (WMPA). The Brou people rely on traditional swidden and paddy rice production, Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs including wildlife) and livestock for their livelihoods. Through an interpretivist approach, the research explored past and current livelihood activities in Kobong village, villagers'' concerns and desires for the future and WMPA perspectives on future livelihood options and park management. A combination of qualitative research methods was used to collect data between October 2010 and January2012: nine focus groups with 58 of the 60 households in Kobong, key informant interviews (6 agency and 2 villagers) and 23 opportunistic interviews (with villagers and the agency), supported by non-participant observation. The research showed that Kobong villagers had three main core values: ''livelihood security'', ''sense of place'' and ''village solidarity''. These values included a desire to continue village improvements whilst protecting their local natural environment and village unity. Genuine recognition of residents'' core values is needed to tailor integrated development and conservation approaches more closely with community needs. Local residents need to be engaged in self-determined action coupled with education and local employment. The NNT NPA has experienced similar challenges to other ICDPs. Implementation of WMPA''s integrated conservation and development activities was often ineffective in achieving either villager or the Authority''s expectations. In order to achieve positive local conservation and development action, park authorities must foster more constructive dialogue with villagers in park planning, implementation and evaluation.This will also help create professional trust and facilitate social change through mutual learning and joint regulation. Conservation projects are dynamic and development of local capacity including staff and local leadership is vital to establish a cooperative adaptive management framework for protected areas. However, conservation will falter unless governing bodies and enclave residents conjointly tackle the international illegal resource trade by understanding the barriers to improve engagement and the development of culturally appropriate approaches across geographical and political environments. With local and international recognition and commitment, park authorities can restrict the lucrative illegal trade and encouragenatural resource conservation.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationMaster of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Millar, Joanne, Co-Supervisor
    • Davidson, Penelope, Co-Supervisor
    Award date01 Jul 2014
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


    Dive into the research topics of 'Balancing conservation and development in protected areas: A case study from Laos'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this