Thursday, April 7, 2016

IRRI strengthens partnership with Lao PDR to develop the country's agriculture sector

VIENTIANE, Laos—The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) sent a mission to Lao PDR seeking to reinforce its partnership and expand its role in increasing the country’s food and nutrition security.

The mission followed up on a visit by a team of IRRI scientists in 2014 to build IRRI’s engagement with its national research partners, review the Lao PDR Rice Policy and Rice Sector Strategy, and identify technical assistance advice and expertise available to the country's agriculture sector.

The IRRI mission team, headed by Reiner Wassmann, climate change specialist, included Michele Weldon, head of partnerships and development; Grant Singleton, coordinator of CORIGAP: Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint; Leocadio Sebastian, regional program leader for CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security-Southeast  Asia (CCAFS); Digna Manzanilla, coordinator of the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE); Yoichiro Kato, agronomist at CURE; and R.K. Singh, rice breeder.

“The team was a good cross-section of the disciplines and networks relevant to our work in Lao PDR,” said Weldon. “The majority of the team members have previous experience in Lao PDR going back over several years in projects and consortia with donors.”

IRRI’s activities in Lao PDR have been supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, SDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, the Government of Japan, and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Collaborations between Lao PDR and IRRI began in the late 1960s. The long-term partnership resulted in the transformation of Lao PDR’s rice sector from pure subsistence to more commercial production. The country’s total rice production increased from 1.5 million tons in 1990 to more than 2 million tons in 1999, at which time the country achieved rice self-sufficiency. In 2012 and 2013, rice production exceeded 3 million tons, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

In 2007, the Lao PDR Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and IRRI signed a memorandum of understanding establishing the IRRI-Greater Mekong Subregion office in Lao PDR, which is now the IRRI-Lao PDR office.

In 2012, a study requested by the government reported that, as its rice production has achieved a sizable surplus, improving nutritional outcomes will increasingly depend on policies that promote higher household incomes and education about better diets.

 “It was very important to re-assure the local partners of our sustained interest in working in the country,” said Weldon. “The team identified some important prospects for future engagement in Lao PDR. There are some large projects at the development stage.”

Research priorities identified by IRRI’s Lao partners focused on modernization, more resilience in the rice sector, and developing niche markets for their rice. Lao partners are concerned that they have been left behind as neighboring countries in the region have already started such efforts.

“Our mission is to strenghthen existing partnerships and establish areas for collaboration, as well as identify partners and potential donors who, in some cases, have not been aware of our long history of collaboration in the country,” said Weldon.

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