Burapha Agro-Forestry Company receives Asean Agrow Golden Award

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Tree plantations that create jobs for local communities and a focus on environmental protection were the main factors in the Burapha Agro-Forestry Company winning an Asean Agrow Golden Award this year.

The award engendered pride in the company’s employees, who have been working hard in these areas for almost 30 years. 

Deputy Managing Director of the Burapha Agro-Forestry Company, Ms Souphayvanh Thiengchanhxay, said that when she received a form from the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry to enter the competition, she did not expect to win an award.

But the company’s eucalyptus and acacia plantations in the capital and Xayaboury, Vientiane and Xaysomboun provinces met the requirements of the award’s ‘agriculture’ category, and they were chosen to receive the accolade.

Ms Souphayvanh went to the Philippines to receive the award earlier this month, at a ceremony also attended by company representatives from other Asean countries who won awards in other categories.

“This award will encourage us to continue to establish more tree plantations and allow local people to take part in our activities, which helps to protect the environment,” she said.  

For other Lao companies considering their eligibility for the award, Ms Souphavanh says that environmental protection should be a priority consideration.

Applicants should also use an accounting system that is in line with the law, so that their accounts are transparent and can be inspected. They should also have a market for their products and good logistics system. And, most importantly, the local community should benefit from the project.

Ms Souphayvanh explained why the Burapha Agro-Forestry Company was successful in winning the Asean Agrow Golden Award.

Burapha was the first company to establish commercial agroforestry plantations in Laos and is today one of the world leaders in the concept of agroforestry, with the first development work being done in 1993.

Agroforestry is a land-use system in which timber plantations are integrated with farm crops on the same land and offers significant environmental, social and economic benefits.

Seven-year rotation plantation operations are conducted in cooperation with participating villages, with the space between tree rows provided for community agricultural activities. 

Rice and other crops are grown during the first years of plantation establishment and then livestock can graze until the trees are harvested after seven years and then the cycle restarts. Proven agroforestry systems in combination with funds for rural development strongly support the government’s goal to eradicate poverty in remote rural areas.

Today Burapha has a modern sawmill outside Vientiane and will start the construction of a high technology plywood mill at the end of this year to produce plywood for domestic and international markets.

Ms Souphayvanh said Laos has the potential to utilise the land in a more sustainable way and produce value-added products for international markets.

According to the company’s research, Laos is the best country in the world for agroforestry taking into consideration biological growth rates, population density, stability of government, low risk of natural disasters, high availability of land, and closeness to markets.

“The company is committed to managing and developing the business in a sustainable manner. Burapha is the first company in Laos with Forest Stewardship Certification, which acknowledges the company’s high environmental, social and economic standards,” she said.

Burapha’s objective is to build an agroforestry plantation in Laos large enough to supply a major industry operation producing agricultural crops, biofuels, green electricity, green chemicals, plywood, sawn timber and Kraft and/or dissolving pulp using the plantations as a renewable resource.

Since Burapha is only utilising degraded land the biomass on the land, in steady state as an average over the rotation, Burapha has as of now captured 380,000 tons of CO2 and will in the coming years capture an additional 5.32 million tons CO2.  The products Burapha produce and plan to produce are sustainable and biodegradable and can replace oil-based products such as building materials, packaging and textiles.

“By establishing agroforestry plantations Burapha creates a sustainable source of wood that decreases pressure on the remaining natural forest. Agroforestry plantations also create alternative income streams to illegal logging and slash and burn agriculture,” she explains.

In addition, Burapha’s follow-up shows that the villagers the company engages with increase their income three times compared to the shifting cultivation practices that were previously predominant on the land. The farmers get more rice per hectare, as well as a cash income from the labour opportunities created.

Salary levels are well above minimum wage in Laos and are based on a third-party estimate of minimum sustainable living wage on which the company on top adds an additional 10 percent. Today, Burapha’s internal minimum wage is 18 percent higher than the Lao minimum wage.

Since the company’s agroforestry methods can be highly mechanised, there is strong potential for transition from low skilled jobs to high skilled jobs. As an example, today harvesting operations are mainly manual, to create job opportunities in rural areas.

“As Laos is a fast-growing economy and has a low population density, we foresee a labour shortage and will then move to more mechanised harvesting and thus create higher skilled jobs without our operational cost increasing,” said Ms Souphayvanh.

The project will give significant benefits to the government and people of Laos through tax income, job creation, poverty alleviation and food sustainability. The company’s model incorporates the poorest and most vulnerable people, delivering benefits where they are most needed.

Burapha normally leases land from the farmer for a period over 30 years. To ensure that farmers understand the project and that there are no land use conflicts, Burapha has a bottom-up driven land acquisition where they always ask for the farmers’ consent through a thorough free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) procedure.

Burapha also arranges study tours for villagers in new areas to visit farmers the company already cooperates with and ask questions and get information without the company’s interference.

Through the work in the agroforestry plantations the farmers learn how to establish their own plantations and since they now have an additional income they can invest, they are encouraged to invest in their own agro-forestry plantations.

The company is, together with involved organisations, donating seedlings and fertiliser to farmers that want to establish their own plantations.

“This is one of the best ways of capacity building - first learning by doing and then lowering the investment threshold by eliminating the capital input (seedlings and fertiliser),” said Ms Souphavanh.

Burapha has a policy to employ local staff and many middle management employees started in the company as seasonal workers and now have high skilled jobs. Today 24 percent of the employees are female and the company has set a target to reach 30 percent female employees within three years.