Building resilience to climate change in Laos
Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is highly susceptible to climate change and natural hazards, particularly to flood and drought conditions which seriously affect the country’s agricultural production. Although gradually declining in terms of its contribution to GDP in recent years, agriculture continues to play a major role in Lao PDR’s economy. Kangphosay village, located in Savannakhet Province, and its surrounding agricultural lands are located along the bank of a river, an area which is prone to flooding. Since 1992, villagers have experienced four major floods, the most recent in 2015 when 106 hectares of agricultural land were flooded, damaging more than one third of cropped land. Four years earlier, in 2011, the village lost all its crops during a major flood that persisted for three months. Almost 400 hectares of farm land is potentially vulnerable to flood damage in any given year, and the water level can remain persistently high for months at a time. FAO and the European Union partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and Laotian Province authorities to provide disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) training in agriculture in Kangphosay village, with the aim of increasing farmers’ resilience to disasters and broadening livelihood diversity.
Lao PDR is very vulnerable to natural disasters, including extreme weather events which have been increasing in frequency and intensity. Almost all the country’s farming systems are susceptible to flooding, drought and the late onset of the rainy seasons. With a high dependency on traditional agricultural systems and a predominance of smallholder farms, the impacts of such natural disasters can be all the more devastating.
Good Practice Operations
FAO’s DRRM training has supported smallholder farmers in Kangphosay village not only in adopting Good Practice Operations (GPOs) designed to prevent flood damage, but also in adapting successfully their approach to fish culture. Malaythip Viengmany, a smallholder farmer and beneficiary from Kangphosay village whose livelihood mainly relies on fish farming, is now sharing her knowledge with others, and the community as a whole is also diversifying livestock.
“Earlier when the floods came, there was no way to avoid the loss. One of the prevention options offered by the project, which we have adopted, is to place a high net fence around the fish pond so that during periods of flooding the fish were not swept away. Apart from this, the project also introduced some new techniques for raising fish”, explained Malaythip. “Thanks to the support from FAO project we are able to raise more fish and minimize the damage from the floods.” Today, Malaythip and her family not only have sufficient fish for their own consumption, but they are also able to supplement their income by selling the production surplus.
As a FAO project village, Kangphosay has ten participating households in the GPO programme, comprising flood tolerant rice, fish cultures, and organic fertilizer/soil improvement. Farmers have received soil improvement training to produce organic fertilizer and, as a result, have increased their overall agricultural production. In addition to boosting their own livelihoods, they have shared these techniques with other farmers to spread the practice throughout the community. While currently implemented GPOs offer significant opportunities to reduce vulnerability in target areas, their selective implementation leaves great room for expansion.
Resilient livelihood opportunities for women
Kangphosay villagers have pursued a range of activities to broaden their livelihood diversity, from growing multiple types of crops to raising different types of livestock and developing supplemental incomes. Additional activities, farm and business –focused, aim to limit the impacts of disasters, in particular the exploration of resilient livelihood opportunities for women.
Traditionally, women have had a strong agricultural role in Lao PDR communities, and that role should be enhanced. Increased inclusion of women in agricultural decision making and training activities, as demonstrated by the success of the GPO programme, increases the effectiveness of the community’s agricultural system as a whole.
District Agricultural Officers periodically check in with communities to provide additional support and resources, taken up by the citizens and local leaders. In support of this goal, DRRM plans have proven most successful when local stakeholders take ownership of the processes and organize periodic meetings to oversee the implementation of activities.
Mainstreaming DRRM into agricultural planning
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has taken important steps to better address and mainstream DRRM into agricultural planning. With the support of FAO, they have developed a sector-specific Plan of Action (PoA) for DRRM in agriculture to raise awareness, strengthen sectoral capabilities and promote a proactive approach to DRRM.
With FAO’s support, the Government has been increasing the resilience of agricultural communities to disasters, and in 2014 a Plan of Action for Disaster Risk Reduction Management in Agriculture was produced. The Organization is currently supporting implementation of the Plan by developing guidelines for planners and technical officials, field testing and validating good practice options. Assistance is also enabling the Government to provide rapid and coordinated cross-sectoral responses to poultry disease epidemics – including the detection and stamping out of several outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI).