The University of Arizona

REDD+ as a tool for state territorialization: managing forests and people in Laos

Sabaheta Ramcilovik-Suominen


This article analyzes the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) policy process, through the lens of state territorialization in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos). It explores the motivations, mechanisms and strategies that drive REDD+ policy design and its implementation in the country. The provinces selected for REDD+ activities within the Emission Reduction (ER) Program, as well as the various REDD+ pilot projects are located in the north, where shifting cultivation is widespread, but where the potential for REDD+ to address deforestation and carbon sequestration is not optimal. The provinces with high carbon sequestration potential and high rates of deforestation are not part of the ER Program due to development investment projects and political sensitivity in those areas. REDD+ acts as a tool for state territorialization in a number of ways, including: (i) by targeting the areas where shifting cultivation is widely practiced, aiming to regulate village forest uses and users, (ii) by protecting state political, economic and development goals and strategies, by leaving the profitable large-scale drivers of deforestation unaddressed, including large-scale land investments, hydropower, infrastructure and mining development, and finally (iii) by providing additional motives, tools and discourses for state territorialization, including funding, technologies and the narratives that support it. I highlight, however, that REDD+ is not the sole reason for state territorial politics and practices. Rather, the instrument is layered over previous histories of colonial and post-colonial territorialization processes, continuing a similar logic, rhetoric and management practices. The REDD+ design and its technical orientation, however, appear to provide additional motives, as well as a new pool of resources, technical assistance and modern technologies that intensify the practice and politics of state territoriality in Laos.

Keywords: Laos, REDD+, state territorialization, forest politics, drivers of deforestation

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