The Mekong region has witnessed considerable deterioration of watersheds from war, logging, mining, population growth, hydropower and irrigation development, and clearing of terrestrial and flooded forests for agriculture. Some areas of the Mekong basin have lost over half of their original forest cover leading to soil erosion, flash floods, and a decline in the provision of ecological goods and services.  

Watershed management has a long history in the Mekong region, but it was only during the last decade that experts began to better understand the interlinkages between ecological, social and economic functions. During the last few years the political commitment for sustainable watershed management has increased significantly in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB).

Since 1995, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) has implemented a variety of watershed management activities. In 2011, it completed the MRC Watershed Management Project. Funded by GIZ, it developed approaches, methodologies and tools that were tested in pilot projects across the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). DSC 4805

Building on the PRC-GIZ Watershed Management Project, the Sustainable Management of Watersheds on the Lower Mekong Basin (SUMALOM) was launched in 2009 as collaboration between MRC, the Lao and German Governments through KfW Development Bank. The project has one component in Lao PDR aimed at showcasing best practice in sustainable watershed management in the Nam Ton river watershed and one regional component at the MRC aiming at regional implication. In Lao PDR, SUMALOM Project was jointly implemented by Department of Water Resources (DWR) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) and the Division of Agriculture Extension and Cooperatives (DAEC) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF). Through its integrated approach to land and water management, the project has helped the communities and local government to improve farming systems and watershed management, benefitting 35,000 people via better water and land use planning through a participatory approach, land registration, forest protected area management, irrigation development, agriculture research and extension, farming systems development, integrated water resource management, and development of a micro-financed system.  

On 15 and 16 August, the MRC in cooperation with KfW Development Bank and Department of Water Resource (DWR)/MoNRE held the Regional Workshop on Watershed Management to exchange best practices and lessons learnt from the Nam Ton project and from other watershed management initiatives in Cambodia, Thailand, and Viet Nam. More than 70 watershed practitioners, including representatives from the four MRC members (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam), international organisations, the private sector, river basin organisations, local communities, and academia, shared their expertise along with recommendations on sustainable watershed management.

“Drawing upon the experiences and lessons learnt from the SUMALOM-Nam Ton Project and watershed management practitioners at the regional, national and local levels it is important to share knowledge and best practices, exchange of experiences, identify key challenges and priority actions to sustainably manage the watershed in the LMB” said Officer in Charge of the MRC Secretariat An Pich Hatda at the workshop.

Mr.Lorenz Gessner KfW Country Director highlighted in his speech “The results achieved through this project show that watershed management can be developed in a sustainable way. The valuable lessons learnt as well as the best practices from this project can be easily applied to future projects for sustainable watershed management in MRC member countries and in other areas”

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The participants identified a number of challenges and bottlenecks including the absence of a regional master plan, limited transboundary cooperation among River Basin Organisations (RBOs) and local agencies, as well as lack of financial and technical support, and knowledge on watershed management in the LMB. They also proposed priority actions for the MRC, national line agencies, RBOs, local governments, and developers to respond to those challenges, including the development of  a planning framework, training of watershed practitioners, and the creation of a joint platform for cooperation between the MRC, development partners, and the private sector.

The MRC has developed a regional framework or so-called ‘blueprint’ for watershed management which will be further streamlined in national watershed management plan. 

Photo 2 and 3: Field visit to Nam Ton Watershed in Sangthong District, Vientiane, Lao PDR on 16 August 2017. Participants visited a mixed livestock and forage garden in Ban Tao Hai , the agricultural extension at Nalath Centre (mushroom, nursery, frogs and fish breeding), and irrigation scheme and paddy field at Ban Nasaonang. This field visit was an opportunity for participants to recognise the importance of having a watershed management plan driven by the local communities and who are the real ‘environmental managers’ to preserving watershed resources. 

SUMALOM Nam Ton Project: Achievements at a Glance

   Improved farming system and socio-economic outcomes:

  • 738 ha protection forest planted by 441 families
  • 142 land title allocated for plantations, rattan, upland & paddy fields
  • 65 ha paddy field for 102 families
  • 5 irrigation schemes serving 212 ha for 132 families
  • 242 demonstration farmers and extension groups
  • 152 beneficiaries of micro-finance network.

   Improved watershed management:

  • 43 villages with a Participatory Water and Land Use Plan (PWLUP)
  • 3 agriculture extension centres established and equipped with a management plan for future extension activities and sustainability
  • equipment for water monitoring
  • watershed management and village environmental committee established
  • water regulation formulated.