IFAD and Government of Lao PDR commit to improving nutrition in rural areas

With the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities in Lao PDR are experiencing mounting critical nutrition issues

On a four-day visit to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), Jyotsna Puri, associate vice-president of the strategy and knowledge department at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and Reehana Raza, IFAD’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, met Phet Phomphiphak, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, and renewed IFAD’s commitment towards supporting Lao PDR to respond to  national priorities and improve rural livelihoods in target areas. They also met key partners such as Phouthanouphet​ Saysombath, Deputy Minister of Finance, Sathabandith​ Insixiengmay, Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment, and Bounkham Vorachith, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment.

While Lao PDR has seen significant economic growth over the last two decades, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate shocks and war in Ukraine have constrained efforts to improve living conditions in recent years, leading to declining growth and an increase in unemployment rates and the cost of living. The crisis has taken a serious toll on rural families already disproportionately affected by poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.

The visit focused on the role of small-scale farmers in improving household nutrition and food security through sustainable agriculture. Over 60% of people in Lao PDR live in rural areas, and many depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Most farmers use traditional farming methods and lack access to functional irrigation and good roads. Many struggle to meet household food requirements, making malnutrition a critical issue. Malnutrition levels remain high, with a third of children under five years of age stunted, and 40% of women found to be anaemic.

“Small-scale farmers in Lao PDR are a great example of the kind of potential we can unlock for rural people and communities in collaboration with our partners,” said Jyotsna Puri. “If we can provide access to finance, training, technology and markets, we can help rural families build more prosperous lives for themselves and reduce hunger and malnutrition. IFAD has longstanding experience around the world in working with governments to transform rural areas and we’ve seen the results of this partnership in our work with Lao PDR as well,” she added.

The IFAD delegation and the UN Resident Coordinator, Sara Sekkenes, visited the Oudomxai Province and saw first-hand the results of IFAD’s support through the Agriculture for Nutrition programme (AFN Phase I), financed by the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) and managed by IFAD. Oudomxai Provincial Vice-Governor Ounkeo Ounalom and provincial and district authorities introduced the UN delegation to small-scale farmers who have learnt, through the AFN programme, to produce crops and livestock responding to market demands and also to connect to and collaborate with the private sector. The delegation also met members of an agricultural production group who received grants to raise fish, pigs and poultry and grow vegetables for nutritiously balanced meals for additional income.

“Today, Lao PDR’s small-scale farmers face multiple challenges, including volatile food and fuel prices and the effects of climate change,” said Reehana Raza. “IFAD will continue to support the government in helping small-scale farmers to improve nutrition, agricultural production and market access as well as build their resilience to shocks.”

Since 1978, IFAD has supported 17 programmes and projects in Lao PDR for a total of US$509.07m (with IFAD contributing $164.81m, directly benefitting about 330,000 rural households. Currently, IFAD is co-financing two projects in Lao PDR: the Partnerships for Irrigation and Commercialisation of Smallholder Agriculture project ($30 million; 2019-2025), which focuses on intensified agricultural development, value chain development and improved nutritional practices; and the new Agriculture For Nutrition – Phase 2 project ($48.30 million; 2023-2029), which builds on the results and experiences of AFN in improving food and nutrition security, enhancing climate resilience and increasing small-scale farmers’ incomes.