Managing forests, sustaining lives, improving livelihoods of indigenous peoples and ethnic groups in the Mekong region, Asia

Lessons learned from the Learning Route

The stories narrated in this paper provide important lessons on the role indigenous peoples’ communities and ethnic groups can play in managing and preserving natural resources to nourish and support their present and future generations. In order for these communities to use natural resources to sustain their livelihoods, and to pass on their knowledge to the generations to come, their rights to land territories and resources need to be recognized and respected. The sustainable use of natural resources can benefit society at large and humanity as a whole.

The experiences derived from the Learning Route in Lao PDR and Thailand also illustrate the centrality of partnerships and alliances within the communities, between the communities and local governments and with the support of external actors. The Learning Route can play a useful role in promoting policy dialogue between indigenous peoples’ communities and governmental officers. This project provides a unique opportunity to share knowledge and information on the lives, perspectives and world views of indigenous peoples, and to go beyond the misconceptions that often surround them, particularly with respect to their living in a modern world and their linkages with the market economy – a misconception that perceives indigenous peoples as stuck in time and opposed to progress.

The Learning Route offers the opportunity to understand that indigenous peoples and ethnic groups are sometimes the most modern of societies, particularly when it comes to sustainable use of natural resources and environmental protection. The experience of the ‘sustainable village’ of Huay Hin Lad Nai, recognized by the Government of Thailand as a model for a low-carbon, environmentally friendly lifestyle, is an example that should not remain isolated. Likewise, efforts made by communities and the government of Sangthong District in Lao PDR to gain recognition of communal land titles might serve as an inspiration for other provinces. These examples should be scaled up and used to influence policies for the development of indigenous peoples, giving hope for viable economic opportunities to the youth who wish to remain in their communities.