ASEAN-CGIAR Regional Program conducts workshop on improving food and nutrition security in Laos

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The Workshop on Improving Food and Nutrition Security through Regenerative Farming Systems, Enhanced Agrobiodiversity, and Farmer-Led Irrigation recently convened in Vientiane, Laos on November 2023, bringing together key stakeholders from various sectors, including government, international NGOs, CGIAR Centers, and academia.

The workshop provided the platform to introduce and work on the country activities of the three core Intervention Packages (IPs) of the ASEAN-CGIAR Innovate for Food and Nutrition Security Regional Program, such as Regenerative Agriculture/Aquaculture Practices and Judicious Agrochemical Use (IP 1), Enhancing ASEAN Agrobiodiversity Use and Landscape Biodiversity (IP 3), and Farmer-Led Irrigation for Climate-Resilient Agri-Food Systems (IP 7). The participants also addressed the pressing issue of Transboundary Pests and Diseases (IP 5), emphasizing collaborative efforts in response.

In his welcome message, Dr. Mark Dubois, the country representative for IWMI and Regional Representative for South East Asia, highlighted key elements pertinent to the agricultural landscape in Laos. Dr. Dubois emphasized the imperative shift in farming systems towards resource efficiency, climate resilience, and innovative food systems. This transformation responds to heightened pressure on land, water resources, and the escalating impacts of climate variability. Urging a collective call to action, he advocated for collaborative endeavors to revolutionize food systems.

The workshop commenced with an overview of the IPs, providing a comprehensive understanding of strategies to promote sustainability in agriculture. In-country experiences were shared, offering valuable insights into the practical implementation of these interventions.

Three breakout sessions were held focusing on IPs 1, 3, and 7. Participants delved into specific details, exploring potential enhancements and targeting outcomes aligned with the countries’ priorities and ongoing initiatives. Discussions centered on how these outcomes could be effectively implemented, ensuring practical application and alignment with existing national priorities.

In the breakout session on IP 1, the group assessed linkages with other IPs, including 2 (on Climate Neutrality and Circular Agriculture), 3, 5, and 7, and addressed key questions related to the definition and knowledge gaps of regenerative agriculture and aquaculture. Practical aspects of soil health improvement, agroecological practices, available digital support tools, and the role of remote sensing in generating large-scale soil health data were explored.

Additionally, discussions touched on the scale of Anti-Microbial Use (AMU) and barriers/enablers to reduce Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) in livestock and plant health contexts. The session concluded with considerations about the incorporation of regenerative agriculture in current agriculture and fisheries policies and the existing legislation regarding soil health, AMU, and the use of inorganic fertilizer and pesticides.

In the context of IP 3, discussions emphasized the prioritization of interventions amid resource constraints, the need for baseline assessments, learning from existing projects, advocating locally-adapted solutions, and proposing economically viable strategies. It also focused on improving value chains, citing examples like mulberry paper and bamboo shoots, and suggested providing incentives to extension workers for effective implementation.

IP 7 discussions revealed that farmers in Laos are embracing small-scale, community-managed irrigation. Most notably, innovative solar irrigation technologies have recently emerged, but are challenged by a range of issues, including a lack of supportive policies, limited farmer awareness about water use efficiency, and poor market linkages. At the same time, increased support to farmers from government and private sector investments are examples of more positive developments. Key lessons from other regions emphasized the need for providing farmers with adequate training and access to information. Farmer-led systems can complement public irrigation schemes to accelerate scaling of innovations that enhance agricultural productivity and resilience.

The breakout groups reconvened in a plenary session, presenting their findings and engaging in a collective question and answer session. Importantly, participants discussed the practical application of strategies and the alignment of intervention packages with existing national priorities, ensuring seamless integration into ongoing agricultural initiatives.

Dr. Vongvilay Vongkhamsao, representing the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI), emphasized that the “workshop aligns seamlessly with our commitment to advancing the agricultural sector’s sustainability and resilience. The program’s objectives resonate strongly with our national priorities, providing NAFRI with a valuable framework to enhance our contributions to ensuring food and nutrition security for the people of Laos.”

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