Good agricultural practices help raise farmers’ incomes in Lao PDR

FAO helps strengthen management of agricultural chemicals in Laos and the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

Key facts

Through the Integrated Pest Management Programme (IPM), FAO introduced the farmer field school approach in Laos in 1996 to support the development of pest management in rice and vegetables. The approach uses experimental learning to help farmers make decisions and find answers for themselves. In recent years, the programme has also helped Lao farmers in managing pests and diseases on fruits, coconut and cassava. Today, FAO continues to support the national IPM programme within the scope of a longer-term regional programme aimed at strengthening management of agricultural chemicals in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Since the introduction of the IPM programme some 24 000 farmers (including 3 401 women) in 801 communities of nine provinces namely, Vientiane Capital, Bokeo, Louang Prabang, Louang Namtha, Oudomxay, Phongsaly, Sayabouly, Xiengkhouang and Vientiane Province have participated in training and formulation of community action plans for pesticide risk reduction.

Environmentally sustainable farming practices help farmers in Laos not only increase their incomes but also breed healthier crops for consumers and their families.

Khamphou Phanthaboun who farms at Nonetae Village, in the Xaythany district 20 Km south from Vientiane, would heavily rely on pesticides to grow vegetables in the mid 1990s, and even as such, he was struggling to earn a living from his vegetable farm. He was able to produce just one kind of vegetable and had to rely on a middleman who would buy his yields at low prices.

Without any higher education, raising his five children was not an easy task. Like the majority of Lao people, Khamphou and his wife depend mainly on agriculture to survive.

In 1998, Khamphou joined a farmer field school in his community.  For the first time, he learned the ins and outs of how to grow healthy crops: “Since I joined the programme, I knew how to rotate crops. I learned about the pests’ lifecycle and how to identify them. I learned new skills and techniques to manage them while avoiding the use of chemicals,” says Khamphou.

Once he finished training, he continued to grow various kinds of vegetables including lettuce, cabbage, beetroots and celery, and rotated them accordingly: “These allowed me to gain higher yields and for the first time ever, I am no longer in debt,” he adds.

Sounan Heuangpaseuth is another farmer living at Donxingxu village, in Vientiane who joined the programme in the early 2000s. “The approach (referring to farmer field schools or FFS) is perfect for me. I learned how to grow crops, to monitor and manage pests. I also now know how to make organic composts from animal waste and herbal insecticide. Pesticide is the last option,” Sounan explains.

With know-how in farming, he can produce safe vegetables for the markets and increase his yields. He is now growing white eggplants and betel leaves which are sold for European exports. In an area of 1 600 square meters, he has earned a consistent income of more than 5 million Kip a month. Sounan still uses chemicals but at minimal level to make sure that his produce meets Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), which are practices that address environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm processes, and result in safe and quality food and non-food agricultural products. Therefore his white eggplants are qualified for exporting to Europe.

Khamphou, with his increased technical capacity from the FFS programme, joined an organic farming project and is now a strong believer that organic farming can provide him with better income and healthier products. He is also the head of the Organic Farmer Group and a member of the committee managing Vientiane's thriving That Louang organic market.

Like Sounan and Khamphou, many farmers who took part in FAO’s FFS programmes decided to reduce pesticides or no longer use them realizing the danger they pose.

“Before, I had no knowledge on how to use chemicals— so I used them all the time. I used to get headaches, felt dizzy and tired” Khamphou says. “Following good agricultural practices helps everyone and it is also friendly for the environment. We all depend on each other”, he explains.

During the one-month training, both Khamphou and Sounan also trained to become farmer field school facilitators. Even though many farmers and participants of the field schools never even finished high school, they have opportunities to train others and conduct their own research, manage and sell their own crops.

Khamphou and Sounan are just two out of thousands of examples. Today, farmers trained by FAO are equipped with fundamental farming skills that they can replicate throughout their farming career. They can support their families, send children to study at vocational and university level and  feel financially secure, healthier and happier than ever before.

“As a farmer, I am happy and proud to be part of this type of training and to contribute to spreading good agricultural practices in Laos,” Sounan concludes. 

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