This impact story is from our 2020 annual report.
SEI Asia partnered with FAO and the government of Lao PDR to deliver a policy framework for Green and Sustainable Agriculture. The framework will form the cornerstone of the country’s revised Agricultural Development Strategy and now forms part of its upcoming five-year Socio-Economic Development Plan.
The agricultural sector in Lao PDR, as in all countries in Southeast Asia, is facing the need to adapt on several fronts to rapid environmental, social and economic shifts.
There is pressure to reduce the environmental burden of the sector on land, water and biodiversity, and its impacts on human health. Agricultural goods must also be competitive with those of other producer countries in the region, and the sector needs to adapt to ensure food sovereignty and sustainable production, taking account of the skills, preferences cultural requirements of the population.
Yet since the revolution in 1975, agricultural strategies and policies set out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) have been based largely on increasing agricultural production to meet unrealistic targets, relying heavily on intensified use of chemical inputs and mechanization.
Research carried out by SEI at the request of the MAF showed beyond doubt that the country’s production targets were unachievable. First because of its bio-geophysical conditions; second because producers don’t have access to vital infrastructure, including irrigation, road networks, and equitable markets; and third because agricultural production in Lao PDR has not been able to compete with Thailand, China, or Vietnam in terms of bulk production, meaning that the price of goods produced in Lao would continue to be undercut by its larger neighbours.
A shift in perspective
It was clear a new approach was needed. While working on the research for the ministry, the government asked SEI to comment on its National Green Growth Strategy, which led to further discussion on formulating the new Green Sustainable Agriculture approach. SEI leveraged its long engagement in Southeast Asia in discussions with senior officials to make the case that a different strategy was possible: one which would be environmentally sustainable and also hold the promise that profitable markets could be identified for agricultural commodities produced in Lao PDR.
"In the future we will find appropriate ways to disseminate [the GSA framework] more, as well as share it with other countries. Again, thank you, and also to the FAO, for your support and contribution on this work."
– Vongpaphane Manivong, Deputy Director General, Department of Policy and Legal Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR
SEI, in partnership with FAO (the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), worked to support the government in turning its sights towards more sustainable targets and priorities. The ensuing consultations led the government to commission SEI to develop a policy framework for Green and Sustainable Agriculture (GSA) – a plan which reflects a shift in outlook within Lao’s Ministry of Agriculture and Finance and the government as a whole.
Long-term engagement with government agencies was a key reason why the work bore fruit – it underpinned a relationship built on trust and allowed SEI staff to credibly communicate a body of research in a way that resonated with the priorities of government stakeholders. It also meant that SEI was able to deploy a deep knowledge of the structure and culture of the institutions involved. Partnership with international agencies, chiefly the FAO, also helped to achieve agreement, as did resources from SEI’s rapid response and strategic collaboration funds, earmarked from the Institute’s core support.
A guide for sustainable agriculture in Lao PDR and beyond
The Lao PDR Government has now officially adopted the policy framework for green and sustainable agriculture and it is already being used to inform policy development at national and provincial levels. It serves as a guiding document owned by the Department of Policy and Legal Affairs and will be applied by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as the foundation for designing specific policy measures.
The new framework will also enable government planning bodies to work independently from foreign agricultural policy, paving the way for change that is compatible with the country’s unique context. In the future, this can help Lao PDR to play a leadership role in agriculture in Southeast Asia, helping to shape the region’s agricultural policy for more sustainable outcomes.
Strategy in action
Priority for changeMore productive, resilient and sustainable practices in the agricultural sector
SEI worked with the Government of Lao PDR to develop and adopt a policy framework that moves its agricultural sector towards more productive, resilient and sustainable outcomes.
Type of outcomeEnhancing capacities
SEI supported the government in turning its sights towards more sustainable targets and priorities, leading to the development of a policy framework for Green and Sustainable Agriculture (GSA). This framework is the first policy document of its kind for Lao PDR and marks a significant departure from an approach to agriculture that has operated since the country's 1975 revolution.