By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) handed over US$6.3 million in support of the Lao government’s Agro-Biodiversity Initiative (TABI) in Vientiane on Friday. The SDC has increased its efforts to enhance the livelihood and security of upland farming communities by nurturing the productive use of natural products and the conservation of agro-biodiversity resources.
It’s the second phase of the initiative, and the money will go towards work in the two northern upland provinces of Luang Prabang and Xieng Khuang.
Switzerland has been a long-term partner of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, SDC Regional Director for the Mekong Region, Ms Ruth Huber, said.
SDC has been working in partnership with the ministry since the early 1990s, supporting a number of important initiatives aimed at improving rural livelihoods and food security, while at the same time conserving natural resources in Laos.
SDC’s activities have always focused on the northern uplands – one of the nation’s poorest regions – and which is now facing unprecedented rapid economic, social, and ecological change.
Ms Huber expressed her support for responsible choices that ensure environmental and ecological foundations are not compromised. “While change itself is inevitable, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the change is one for development that benefits people and leads to an improvement of the locals’ livelihoods.”
Laos is ecologically rich with an abundance of natural resources, but due to population growth, land use changes, government sanctioned land allocation and village consolidation policies, this biodiversity has eroded over the past 10 years. Impoverished upland farming communities have not been beneficiaries of the influx of commercial resource extraction and large scale commercial agriculture projects. Instead, they face limited access to non-timber forest products, soil degradation, and increasingly scarce water and land.
These threats to agriculture and food security have adverse effects on the population’s livelihoods, in an area where more than 80 percent of the country’s inhabitants live in rural areas and depend mainly on wild plants, forest products and domesticated cro ps.
Laos is a signatory to the International Convention on Biological Diversity. The government has developed a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan to meet its obligations under the convention.
The TABI project contributes to the Lao government’s efforts to apply the Convention and promote agro-biodiversity overall.
TABI is building on the past successes of phase one. In Luang Prabang and Xieng Khuang provinces, project activities have benefited more than 8,000 families that have participated in agro-biodiversity based income and livelihood opportunities developed in 160 villages.
The project installed bio-gas facilities in 20 villages. Land use planning has engaged more than 3,180 households in 34 villages to join in Forest and Land Use Planning activities, covering 220,000 hectares of land.
This has created the groundwork for improved land and forest use and management, for solving land use conflicts, as well as for safeguarding communities against inappropriate land concessions.
Agriculture and Forestry Deputy Minister, Dr Phouangparisak Pravongviengkham, said TABI is very important for Laos because it’s assisting the improvement of community livelihoods in upland areas – and making significant inroads for reducing poverty in the country.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is Switzerland’s public agency for social and economic development in developing nations. SDC manages and implements Swiss funding in response to the needs of the rural poor and contributes to the country’s efforts to graduate from the UN’s least developed country list by 2020.
Photo Credit: Vientiane Times