Laos is known for its rich biodiversity. In the mountainous Oudomxai Province in the north of the country, smallholder families belonging to the Kamou, Loa Loum and Mong ethnic minorities depend on three activities for their livelihood: rainfed farming (terraced rice fields, manioc, corn, sesame and vegetables), livestock farming (pigs, poultry, water buffalo and cattle) and the use of non-timber forest products (hunting, gathering and fishing). These activities provide 50% of the proteins consumed by rural families. The slash-and-burn method is still widely practiced for rainfed farming, and sometimes leads to serious soil-fertility and erosion problems. The biggest issue when it comes to livestock farming is high animal-mortality rates resulting from the lack of sufficient animal-health services at the local, regional and national levels. Because they are isolated, smallholder families rarely have access to services providing technical assistance or information about markets. Selling their products is particularly difficult because the distances are great and the roads are in poor condition, especially during the rainy and monsoon seasons. The food-security situation throughout the province is still considered "alarming".
AVSF has been working with Comité de Coopération Laos and the authorities in Oudomxai Province since the start of 2012 to organize a multi-year program that aims to reduce poverty among rural families and develop the local economy by focusing on sustainable natural-resource management and income generation. The project currently supports 20 villages and will soon be expanded to include over 45 villages throughout the Namor and Muang La districts, which are relatively isolated and where the state of the roads makes it difficult to reach certain areas.
This project addresses the needs of individual families (installation of latrines, fish basins, etc.) and communities (installation of small irrigated systems, etc.). The activities target the poorest families thanks to fish farming and support for local inputs in the production of corn and wild cotton. But in reality, they help many more families thanks to a number of innovative methods: wealthier families buy the seeds or fish larvae and donate a portion of them to the poorest families.
The project has a sound economic approach to ensure that its activities are sustainable: village "marketing groups" collect and sell certain products (corn, cotton, etc.) that are in high demand among families. Products such as wild tea, cotton and weavings, dried beef and spices have good market potential. By selling products as a community, village funds and working capital can be built up, which helps families gain access to loans for buying seeds, among other things. Some groups have already acquired processing equipment, such as cotton gins and carding machines. The project also utilizes several non-timber forest products and builds on traditional knowledge. Some activities focus directly on women to help them become more financially independent over the short term by growing wild cotton and employing traditional weaving techniques. Special support has also been planned for pig and poultry production: training in feeding and hygiene. Health and vaccination training are also two major focuses for authorities in the province. Because the province is so close to China, great care must be taken when it comes to health.
Lastly, the village communities receive help drawing up plans for sustainably managing forest and water resources. First, natural resources with high economic potential (wood, non-timber forest products, etc.) will be identified in the 47 target villages, and plans for reasonable use will be drawn up with volunteers and included in the management plans.
The project is supported by the European Union, Fondation Ensemble, Coopération Suisse and the associations Action de Carême (ADC) and Amis Lorrains du Laos (ALL)