Lao PDR is making steady progress in reducing poverty but remains one of the world’s least developed countries, with an estimated one-third of the population (2 million people) living below the poverty line. As a regional neighbour with 60 years of bilateral relations, Australia is well placed to work with government and other partners to promote opportunities for this country’s development.
The focus of future Australian assistance, as outlined in the Australia–Laos Development Cooperation Strategy 2009–15, is through three pillars: education, inclusive growth through trade and investment, and rural development. ACIAR’s program is directly aligned with the rural development initiative. Approximately 80% of poor people in Laos live in rural areas. Agriculture forms 53% of gross domestic product (GDP).
Food security is still central to agricultural development in Laos, which is one of four countries involved in a new ACIAR initiative on safeguarding food security in rice-based farming systems. ACIAR research aims to increase the productivity of these systems, together with fostering cooperation with CGIAR centres to fast-track the development of new crop varieties using advanced informatics and biotechnology. Some enabling research on underpinning institutional and policy arrangements affecting rice-based farming systems will also be commissioned. These themes will be complemented by capacity building and training.
At the request of the Lao PDR Government, there has been an increased emphasis in southern Laos. There is a need for research to improve food security from rice-based and other farming systems in both lowland and upland districts of southern Laos, along with technical and agribusiness research collaboration, to understand and develop domestic and export market opportunities for rice, cattle and other agricultural products.
Where appropriate, research interventions are tailored to complement larger donor programs. Over the next few years ACIAR will partner with programs of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Asian Development Bank (through the Sustainable Natural Resources Management and Productivity Enhancement Project) and the World Bank to underpin biophysical, socioeconomic and agribusiness development of rice-based and other farming systems in southern Laos. ACIAR will work with these development partners and use research output to support capacity building at the village level, produce and disseminate extension materials, and develop learning alliances with communities and NGOs. Collaboration with these partners will involve working closely with line ministries and other donors to ensure compatibility with the principles of the Vientiane Declaration.