Changes in the role and management of wetland commons in the Lao PDR: Elder perspectives from Pak Peung wetland

Joanne Millar, Lee Baumgartner, Khampeng Homsoumbath, Thonglam Phommavong

    Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paper


    Freshwater wetland commons in Lao PDR are highly biodiverse, and provide food and income security for people living on the Mekong River floodplains. Wetland use, management and governance have changed dramatically over the last 50 years in response to population increase, irrigation and hydropower development, and institutional influences. This paper examines changes in the condition and management of the Pak Peung wetland common in central Lao PDR through the experiences of village elders living near the wetland. Twenty five elders from six villages were interviewed in 2012. An open interview guide was used to explore elder observations of changes to wetland condition and traditional commons governance, and their views on future governance and management strategies. Changes in wetland condition were described as significant loss of habitat with declining fish species and catches. Perceived causes were overfishing, use of modern or illegal fishing gear, felling trees to trap fish and the irrigation weir preventing fish migration. Elders recalled past traditional management practices with strict cultural rules and sanctions around when and where people could fish. Fishing was not allowed on Buddhist holidays or full moon, and people could only catch fish for themselves or for the temple. Conservation areas were well known in the past, and small or breeding fish were left alone. Suggestions for improving wetland management and governance included stronger regulations, policing of illegal fishing methods, conservation zones for fish breeding and revegetating around the wetland. A recent transition from government to community co-management of the wetland with a scientifically designed fishway was seen as positive. However the power of commercial markets, government policies, outsider access and loss of traditions continue to threaten the sustainability of the wetland. The paper concludes with a discussion of the potential to bring back the cultural elements of commons governance within the new realm of scientific co-management.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 16th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Commons
    Subtitle of host publicationPracticing the commons: self-governance, cooperation, and institutional change
    Place of PublicationUtrecht, Netherlands
    Number of pages16
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    EventXVI Biennial IASC Conference: IASC 2017 - Utrecht University Hall (Academiegebouw), Utrecht, Netherlands
    Duration: 10 Jul 201714 Jul 2017 (Conference website) (Conference proceedings)


    ConferenceXVI Biennial IASC Conference
    Abbreviated titlePracticing the Commons: Self-Governance, Cooperation, and Institutional Change
    OtherOn behalf of the IASC and the Local Organizing Committee, I would like to invite you to the XVI Biennial IASC Conference ‘Practicing the commons: self-governance, cooperation, and institutional change’, to be held from 10 to 14 July 2017 in the beautiful medieval city centre of Utrecht.

    With this conference, we aim to consolidate and expand the important work of the IASC on the study of the commons, both in academia as well as ‘in the field’. As previous conferences have shown, commons are important worldwide, both in the present as well as in the past. Especially in Europe, due to the increased privatization of public goods and the impact of the economic crisis over the past few years, commons and other forms of institutions for collective action have received increasing attention from both academia as form society itself; Europe even seems to experience a new ‘wave of collective action’ in virtually every sector of society: new forms of institutions for collective action pop up in energy, care, infrastructure and food (see for example the results of recent surveys by our research team ‘Institutions for Collective Action’).

    Organizing this conference in Europe will also offer a unique opportunity to give the issue of commons studies a bigger exposure among academics, practitioners, and NGOs, possibly resulting in an increased involvement of European scholars on commons. It will also allow the community of scientists to connect to new, inspiring forms of collective action that are coming up at the moment. We intend to demonstrate that the knowledge brought together within the IASC by scholars and practitioners dealing with the commons from developing countries can be a great source of inspiration for current western developments, in terms of resource management.

    On behalf of the IASC and also on behalf of the local organizers, I hope to meet you in Utrecht in July 2017!

    Tine De Moor, Past-President IASC / Chair of the Local Organizing Committee IASC2017
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