Social and Demographic Status
Villagers living in the Nam Et-Phou Louey NPA comprise many ethnic groups including Tai Dam, Tai Daeng, Tai Kao, Tai Puan, Tai Lue, Tai Yuan, Khmu, Hmong Kao, Hmong Lai, and Yao. The population of the villages within and surrounding Nam Et-Phou Louey is 91,500 and there are 13,600 households and 283 villages. The ethnic split is Lao Loum 32%, Lao Teung 51%, and Lao Soung 17%. Within the NPA, where there are fewer villages located, there are 23,000 inhabitants.
Livelihoods and Tradition
The livelihoods of the villagers in the area are very much associated with the natural environment by way of agricultural production and shifting cultivation. There are few sources of alternative employment and settlement are highly scattered and often in remote and inaccessible areas. The traditions of the villagers in the area mainly stem from animist beliefs, with New Year celebrated in January and villagers following the lunar calendar. However, the 12 rules and 14 principles from Buddhism are commonly followed (heep sip song, khong sip sii). The religious beliefs of the different groups and their trappings, e.g. spirit forest, cemetaries and animal veneration, have an important bearing on conservation due to the restrictions they impose. Other beliefs may have negative impacts, e.g. burning of vegetation to improve land productivity and hunting prospects, prolonged celebrations and belief in the healing powers of spirits to the exclusion of modern medicine.
The economies of the majority of villages in Nam Et-Phou Louey NPA are primarily based on agriculture and the natural environment. A small number of villages also manufacture handicrafts and have simple services. The main staples are rice and corn. Upland cultivation (also known as shifting cultivation) accounts for more than 80% of cultivation, which is evident by many cleared hillsides along roads in the village use zone. The most common cash crops grown by villagers are soya beans, mak deuai, sesame and chili. The most common livestock are cattle, pigs, goats, and poultry. Non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as cardamom, sugar palm, rattan, mulberry fibre, chewing bark, bamboo shoots and edible shoots and roots are another income source that is estimated at 22% of total of all income.
The villages in the area are traditionally involved in revenue generating activities such as weaving, distilling, pottery and bamboo/rattan weaving. They also commonly manufacture brick and furniture for domestic use and, occasionally, sale. Trading and services are not yet well developed in the area although there are small shops providing goods for domestic consumption. According to the 2001 Poverty Assessment, the three main districts in Nam Et-Phou Louey, Houameuang, Viengkham, and Viengthong, fall into the second highest poverty bracket with poor villages making up more than 90% of the total (the poorest districts have 100% poor villages).