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Healthy diets vital for progress in Lao PDR, say UN food agencies

FAO, IFAD and WFP conclude three-day visit to see nutrition programmes

16/05/2019 Vientiane

The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) today concluded a joint visit to the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) with a call for greater investment in nutrition.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and WFP Executive Director David Beasley made the three-day visit, together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)'s Sub-regional Director Thomas Rath, to raise awareness about the importance of integrated food systems to improve food and nutrition security, and to see first-hand the impacts of the three agencies' collaborative programmes.

"FAO is committed to working together with IFAD, WFP and the Government of Lao PDR and its people to boost nutrition. The three agencies are already making a difference in farming families' lives and livelihoods, and we strive to continue this progress to achieve Zero Hunger," Graziano da Silva said.

"From this visit, I could feel the sense of optimism from people in the communities," said Beasley. "In partnership with the Lao Government, the work WFP, FAO and IFAD are doing together helps create a better future for schoolchildren, for farmers and for families throughout the country."

Lao PDR has made good progress over the past twenty years in reducing poverty and hunger, but malnutrition remains an obstacle to the country's aim of becoming a middle-income country.

Stunting affects around one-third of children aged under five, and rural areas are worst affected. Improving access to healthy, diversified diets is vital to improving nutrition.

During their visit, Graziano da Silva and Beasley met the Lao PDR Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Agriculture.

The delegation also visited several sites in the country's northern Oudomxay Province which is part of a large joint food security and nutrition programme, Agriculture for Nutrition, that benefits around 400 villages in four northern provinces.

"This project is an excellent example of the three UN agencies building on one another's strengths to work with governments, donors and other partners to maximize our impacts on the ground towards improved food and nutrition security in rural areas," said Rath. 

The programme is being implemented to help boost nutrition in rural areas, in joint collaboration between FAO, IFAD and WFP, and with the Government of Lao PDR and other partners.

Under the programme, FAO is working with farmers to increase their incomes from livestock so they can afford more-nutritious food for their families. This is alongside FAO's work to encourage rice farmers to raise fish in their rice paddies to provide both extra income and a nutritious source of protein. FAO's Farmer Field Schools also help family farmers increase productivity for better food and nutrition security.

IFAD is managing a multi-million dollar fund to invest in areas identified under Strategic Investment Plans that support the country's National Nutrition Strategy, and is providing support to rural communities in developing nutritious crops and livestock that correspond to market demand. IFAD is also working with rural women to improve family diets, especially in the first 1,000 days following conception. Women are receiving support and education to help prevent adolescent pregnancies and to better participate in nutrition-sensitive agricultural activities.

WFP's activities under the programme include supporting Farmer Nutrition Schools that train farming communities to produce and cook more nutritional foods, and household gardens to boost dietary diversity.

The delegation also visited Ban Bor school in Xay District that is taking part in the nationwide school meals programme that encourages healthier diets for children. Graziano da Silva and Beasley witnessed the handover of WFP's school feeding programme in more than 500 schools to the Government.  Under the programme, which WFP started in 2002, nutritious meals are provided by WFP to 140,000 schoolchildren in 1,450 schools to enhance learning and health. Communities are supported to establish and manage school vegetable gardens that ensure fresh, local produce is available for the school meals and also teach children about nutrition.

Greater collaboration brings greater benefits

The three UN food agencies are working with the government and people of Lao PDR to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals including Zero Hunger. Strong collaboration is key to sustainable development.

Working closely together, FAO, IFAD and WFP are making a difference in the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people in many countries and regions around the world. The agencies build on one another's strengths and work with governments, donors and other partners to maximize their impacts.      

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