“Challenges in fishery management and livelihood development among Phouthai people in Xe Bang Fai District of Khammouane Province of Lao PDR”

by Serey Sok & Somkhit Bouridam

Many residents in Khamhieng village of Xe Bang Fai district, Khammouane Province were once highly dependent upon water-related resources, i.e., water and fishery for their livelihood development from Xe Bang Fai River Basin and Nam Theun, a tributary of the Mekong River. A 53-year Bounthom has been a fisherfolk when he was 15 for his family’s incomes and daily consumption. But, he complained that the operation of the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project or simply NT2 in 2010 has changed livelihoods of fisherfolks in both negative and positive manner. This hydroelectric dam is located on the Nam Theun River began its commercial operation of the plant.

img_1922Some residents agreed that their communities received better housing structures and infrastructural support in the resettlement sites but some villagers especially fisherfolks could not sustain their livelihoods due declines in fish catches. A full-time fisherfolk named Souphavone spent around 4 to 5 hours per day for fishing; she confirmed that the decline in fish catches due to the operation of the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project.

In average, a fisherfolk could previously collect fish approximately 7 or 8 kilograms per day but it was now only 6 or 7 kilograms (it means reduce 1-2 kg). The amount of fish is a little decline, but the problem is  the, fisherfolks could collect fish only on Saturday, Sunday and Monday because   water was released for the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower Project on the other days of the week. For the other days villagers go to catch fish in pone, or access to the forest for gathering Non Timber Forest Products for food consumption.

Mr. Bounthom added that the mainly of purpose catching fish in Xe Bang Fai River are for consumption and sell among villagers with cheaper price 15,000-20,000 kip/kg. The limited time to catch fish in Xe Bang Fai River cause of NT2 fix time for releasing water, seem to be no any problem for them for current days, but might be challenge in future when population growth, NTFPs declines etc. With such consequence, fishing could not be any more primary occupation for the villagers of Khamhieng village; this could be only supplementary source of income.

39aa1854-81dd-46bd-be3a-cedff62c710fHowever fishery has been rapidly declining; many residents in Khamhieng village were satisfied with the compensation. To mitigate from impacts of the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower, the company provided each household of 2 million kips1, it has been deposited at a commercial bank for infrastructure development of the village. As the result, the village earned from the interest of 100 million kips for road construction in the village last 2 years.

During the project for mitigating the negative impacts from the Nam Theun 2 Hydropower, a 3-4year development project implemented between 2010 and 2014. The project provided opportunity for fisherfolks to establish Community Fishery. The project helped to create discussion space through community meetings by raising concerns to the government and company in order to sustain livelihoods of the fisherfolk. Moreover, Community Fishery also built capacity and raised the awareness among the fisherfolks about fishery management and conservation. Unfortunately, Community Fishery suspended as soon as completion of the project in 2014.

The suspension of the operation of Community Fishery led to end regular community meeting, patrol and negotiation power with company regarding to the release of water. During the interview with the Phouthai residents, fisherfolks could not communicate with the company or request to the government to release water for fewer days to enable them to collect fishery resources. The villagers already agreed with the company in the exchange with 2 million kip for each household.

In adapting their livelihood development, fisherfolks collected fishes on Saturday, Sunday and Monday only; they have shifted for alternative livelihoods, for example 2 seasons rice cultivation, adding livestock raising and aquaculture. Since the operation of Nam Theun 2 Hydropower, fishing has become less important for the villagers.   

11 US$= 8,133 kip (LAK), rate in 5th January 2016 (BCEL Bank)