the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 15 Nov 2002 -- Vientiane - The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will assist Laos to popularise home food gardens to tackle high levels of chronic malnutrition in the Southeast Asian nation where nearly half of the children have stunted growth.
Under an agreement signed with the Government of Lao PDR today, the world food agency will offer its expertise to improve household food security in one of the world’s poorest nations, where chronic malnutrition is a major obstacle to overall national development.
The US$332 000 Technical Cooperation Project - TCP/LAO/2902 (A) – will set up home food gardens, including livestock and fisheries, to improve household nutrition intake and incomes in four villages with 200 families over an 18-month period. The pilot project, to be eventually replicated across the country, will also enhance rural incomes indirectly through decreased spending on health care. It will link up with the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) projects funded by Japan that were launched in the country in May 2001 to improve farm production.
“Malnutrition not only causes serious health problems, including higher incidence and severity of infectious diseases, mental retardation and blindness, it is also responsible for loss of human capital and worker productivity. An improvement of nutrition will lead to improved health status, well-being and development opportunities,” said FAO’s interim representative Mr Ramadhar today after signing the agreement with Mr Phouang Parisak Pravongviengkham, deputy permanent secretary of the ministry of agriculture and forestry.
The country has some of Southeast Asia’s highest malnutrition levels with 47.3 percent of children suffering from stunting (low height for age) and another 40 percent being underweight. More than one-tenth of Laos’ adult population is chronically undernourished. Deficiency of Vitamin A, iron and iodine is a major public health concern.
Aware of the negative impact of high malnutrition on the national development potential, the Government adopted a national Plan of Action for Nutrition in January 1996 following its endorsement of the World Declaration on Nutrition and Plan of Action for Nutrition at the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) in 1992.
The national plan requires diversification of food consumption for a more balanced diet and accordingly the country gives priority to increasing production of crop, livestock, fruits and vegetables. Home gardens, in combination with nutrition education, have been highly effective in improving nutrition in poor households in other Asian countries, especially Viet Nam.
The FAO project will assist the selected rural families in Laos to improve the quantity and quality of their food production and consumption with special emphasis on food rich in micronutrients. Among other inputs, the families will be provided seeds, small livestock, fish fingerlings and gardening tools. This will be combined with a public nutrition education campaign, with special emphasis on children under five years and women of childbearing age.
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