The Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR, is an iconic tourist destination and supplies critical irrigation water to several downstream villages. The upstream catchment area, or the Kuang Si watershed area, comprises several villages belonging to three separate districts. The aim of this study is to understand how the watershed area of the Kuang Si Waterfall has been managed to ensure a steady, reliable flow of water resources for downstream agricultural and recreational use, in a context whereby slash‐and‐burn is commonly practised by upland farmers. The governance of the watershed has evolved from a top‐down approach in the 1980s to one that embodies integrated watershed management in the recent decades: community‐based forest and land allocation along with livelihood improvement projects. However, the focus on watershed health could be diluted through the latter approach. Drawing on ideas in the commoning literature, I show that there are ongoing forms of ‘lite commoning’ that enable upstream communities to see a stake in protecting the downstream water resource. Transitioning from ‘lite commoning’ to ‘strong commoning’ could help wean watershed programmes off development aid and make them more self‐sustainable, but I argue that it is foremost important to determine the hydrological watershed boundaries.
Asia Pacific Viewpoint – Wiley
Published: Sep 19, 2021
Keywords: community‐based forest and land allocation; environmental commons; Lao PDR; mountainous communities; transboundary governance; watershed programmes