Agricultural Research & Rural Developement

SAFEGUARDING FOOD SECURITY AND RURAL LIVELIHOODS

More than 70% of the Lao population live in rural areas and agriculture continues to absorb more than 70% of the total workforce.

Since 1990, Australia has supported more than 100 agricultural research initiatives and partnerships through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The scientific research we support aims to improve the productivity and sustainability of agricultural systems, as well as the resilience of food systems in Laos. Research has so far demonstrated strong development outcomes, including improvements in the livelihoods of Lao farmers.

Some key highlights of ACIAR’s work in Laos include:

Crops Program
Forestry Research
Livestock Systems Program
Fisheries Research Program

ACIAR’s Crops Program works on two complementary themes of genetics and sustainable intensification and diversification. Under the program, farmers have tested and adopted rice varieties that tolerate episodic dry seasons common to lowland rice areas in Laos. A growing number of rice farmers also now use new direct-seeding techniques to better manage climate risk and labour constraints. Research also led to improved drying and milling techniques which gives farmers a better profit from their rice harvest. An Impact Assessment Report suggests lasting benefits for the livelihoods and food security of smallholder farmers in Laos.

Forestry plays an important role in the Lao economy. ACIAR’s Forestry Research is delivering innovations that have an impact and support better environmental and economic outcomes. Research has successfully developed cost-effective DNA tests for teak, one of the most valuable timbers in the world and a critical resource in Laos. Aside from helping bring authorities a step closer to shutting down the illegal trade in timber from South-East Asia, this research improves the long-term sustainability of teak production. Lao teak farmers now also have access to high value and fast-growing teak varieties genetically reproduced by using laboratory technology

For many rural families in Laos, low input livestock systems are the only activity which allow them to accumulate the capital they need to follow pathways out of poverty. Australia has provided more than 25 years of support to help address productivity issues through research to identify appropriate technical and management options with farmers. Our Livestock Systems Program research has covered key aspects for improved livestock production and quality (health, feeding, nutrition, marketing) across several sectors (cattle, goats, pigs, poultry), developing long-standing research partnerships between Australian and Lao scientists. As a result, there have been some widespread and substantial changes in farmers’ practices, particularly evident in smallholder cattle systems. ACIAR has also supported more than 20 years of capacity building for surveillance of key animal diseases of trade and public health importance, through support to the National Animal Health Laboratory.  

Our Fisheries Research Program strives to improve sustainability of fish resources by helping researchers develop new technologies and policy recommendations to support fishery communities in Laos. Long-term sustainability of vital capture fisheries throughout the Lower Mekong is at risk because of increased water development projects. Capture fisheries are often the main source of protein and cash income for river communities. Since 2006, Australian researchers have been working with local river communities to develop and implement technology that enables fish to continue their migration around artificial barriers like dams and weirs. The long running research on fish passage has protected biodiversity and improved food security for many rural communities.  

Building capacity to inform scientific understanding and the design and implementation of policy is core to ACIAR’s mandate. Since 2005, under the John Allwright Fellowships (JAF) Program, ACIAR has awarded 15 scholarships to students from Laos. The John Dillon Memorial Fellowships (JDF) are provided to outstanding mid-career agricultural scientists and economists to develop leadership skills and ACIAR has awarded JDFs to 7 professionals from Laos so far. The Meryl Williams Fellowships (MWF) are aimed at enhancing the skills and career prospects for women in agricultural science. Since its inauguration in 2019, 3 Lao women have participated in the program.

Rural Development and Mine action

In addition to our work with ACIAR, Australia works with various NGO partners to support rural development in Laos. Read these feature stories to learn more about how Australia, in partnership with CARE Australia, are improving the lives of vulnerable people in some of Laos’ most remote communities.

From 1996 until 2015, Australia provided funding and support to the unexploded ordnance sector (UXO) in Laos. Our assistance focussed on four of the pillars of mine action – humanitarian and integrated unexploded ordnance/mine clearance; mine risk education; victim assistance; and participation in international treaties and conventions. We worked in close collaboration with partners including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UXO Lao, Mines Advisory Group, Handicap International Belgium, Foundation Suisse du Deminage (FSD), COPE and the National Rehabilitation Centre.

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