Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

FAO honours model farmer from Lao PDR

FAO honours model farmer from Lao PDR

Bangkok, 17 Oct 2011 -- Today, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presented FAO awards to five farmers for outstanding achievements in the areas of horticulture (Japan), aquaculture (Lao PDR), small island agriculture (Maldives), forestry (Papua New Guinea) and rice farming (Thailand) during the Asia-Pacific observance of World Food Day in Bangkok.

A model aquaculture farmer from Lao PDR
Mrs Souksakhone Somphone

If you ask Souksakhone Somphone, a fish breeder from the Lao People’s Democratic Republic about being named a Model Farmer for 2011, she will tell you that the award isn’t for her. She is accepting it on behalf of her late husband Khamseng who passed away last year after a long battle with cancer.

Souksakhone’s country of Laos is one of the poorest in Asia. Its people lack protein in their diets. Its farmers lack many things, but especially knowledge. Together, Khamseng and Souksakhone made a difference in the lives of hundreds of poor farmers in the Vientiane province of Laos.

Using their own modest resources, they founded a fingerling breeding farm. It was hard work. They dug the ponds themselves and invested their own funds in the land, the fingerlings and the equipment. 

After two or three years their business began to take off. Farmers from around the province began buying their fingerlings and breeding fish, mostly to feed their own families, but also to sell. Few farmers in Laos, however, had any experience breeding fish. For some it was a struggle.

But Khamseng and Souksakhone were always there to help – visiting farms to teach how to raise the fish, and opening their doors, even at night, to listen to these new fish farmers’ problems and offer advice.

Their shop became an informal centre where farmers exchanged knowledge and information. And Souksakhone would often travel to see farmers having trouble, inspect their ponds and give guidance. She never charged for this help. She just wanted to see these farmers succeed.

Few people who knew Khamseng Somphone would have predicted he would become a fish breeder. For years he worked as a dentist in a government hospital. But as Laos began opening its economy in the 1990s, Khamseng wanted to do something to help his country develop.

He started a brick-making company, and it did well. But soon there was plenty of competition. So he travelled to Khon Kaen province in neighbouring Thailand to study fish breeding in a programme offered by Thailand’s Department of Fisheries.

With this knowledge, and their small profits from the brick company, Khamseng and Souksakhone bought a small plot of land and began digging their ponds. Khamseng did most of the breeding and research, while Souksakhone visited the farmers. Before long, they were raising ten varieties of fresh water fingerlings, including tilapia and giant catfish.

When avian influenza forced farmers to cull their poultry, and an epidemic felled many of their swine, more farmers turned to Khamseng and Souksakhone to learn to breed fish. They now supply over a thousand farms. And their oldest daughter Thipphasone is studying aquaculture at the Nong Khai campus of Khon Kaen University to carry on the family business.

Sadly, Khamseng developed cancer. But he lived several years longer than his doctors expected. Says Souksakhone: “He was able to live for so long because he was happy with what he was doing with his life. He was happy helping people.’’ She insists it is Khamseng who deserves this award. But if he were here today, without a doubt Khamseng would say he could not have achieved anything without his devoted partner and beloved wife, Souksakhone Somphone.