The rising cost of agricultural inputs, natural disasters due to climate change and the lack of access to markets have posed great challenges for family and smallholder farmers in Laos as they strive to make a living, officials and experts have agreed. Speaking at a ceremony last week in Xieng Khuang province to mark the World Food Day 2014, representatives of the government and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shared the common concerns about the challenges faced by farmers in Laos. High-level representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Xieng Khuang province and the FAO were present to celebrate the event, which this year was dedicated to the ‘Farming Family’, according to the a press release from the FAO.
The Lao government and the UN agencies emphasised that family farmers represent a large majority of the agricultural production in Laos and make a critical contribution to the country’s food security and rural development. Over three quarters of the country’s population is engaged in agriculture and almost all of those are smallholders working on their family farms. Family farms are the largest source of employment for Laos, and the foundation of its rural economy. From generation to generation, family members transmit their traditional knowledge to safeguard and benefit from Laos’s rich biodiversity. This also puts them on the front line in defence against malnutrition. These family farms have contributed significantly to enable Laos to achieve self-sufficiency in rich production. Speaking at the event, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Dr Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham said Laos achieved self-sufficiency in rice almost fourteen years ago. “This was a major milestone for the country achieved thanks to the hard work of farmer families,” Dr Phouangparisak was quoted as saying in the press release. However, last week’s event noted that family farmers remain vulnerable due to the aforesaid challenges. These challenges sometimes make family members move away from agriculture, which can affect the viability of their farms.
FAO’s Representative Dr Stephen Rudgard said the FAO is supporting the government to develop and implement policies that protect family farmers. “The agency’s technical knowledge is directly benefiting family farmers in many ways” he said. He explained that the FAO is supporting Lao family farmers with training and technology so that they can produce crops and livestock more safely, improve the quality of their produce, and access markets more easily. Last week’s celebration was co-sponsored by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The two Rome-based agencies specialised in food and agriculture, IFAD and WFP, are playing complementary roles to support family farmers. “Working in partnership with the government, WFP improves the resilience of villages, supporting community development activities through the creation of common assets such as feeder roads, irrigation systems and community tree planting,” WFP representative Mr Bradley Guerrand was quoted as saying.
For IFAD, investing in family and smallholder farmers is at the centre of their rural development efforts since 1980, when the organisation started operations in Laos. The government and the three UN agencies asserted their commitment to work together to improve the livelihoods of family farmers. Governor of Xieng Khuang Province Prof Dr Somkot Mangnomek also attended last week’s event.