Laos: Helping villagers to help themselves

by Joshua Leighton – Food Security and Livelihoods Technical Adviser for Asia

“About 90 out of 137 hectares of our rice fields were affected in the floods. Snails and other pests came and ate our crops as well,” said Ms Pot, deputy village chief of Tong Hap village in Bolikhamxay Province, Laos.

In the floods that hit Bolikhamxay Province  after Typhoon Haima and Tropical Storm Nock-Ten in July 2011, rice paddies in Ms Pot’s village were destroyed and livestock killed. Bolikhamxay Province was the worst affected with 63,000 hectares of farmland, including over 20,000 hectares of rice-paddy land, destroyed.

Struggling to feed the family

The locals cannot afford to protect their crops and livestock; many reported infestations or outbreaks of diseases. The worst-affected families in Ms Pot’s village faced months of struggle to get enough food their families. The rice harvest that year provided about two months’ worth of meals for some: not nearly enough. Others lost their entire crop.

To help families to recover from this flood and build up their ability to protect themselves from future onslaughts, Save the Children has been on the ground in Bolikhamxay distributing rice and cash grants so families can buy the items they need most. They’ve also been training communities to manage rice crops and livestock better.

Training is the key

The training is vital. While the richest households are able to purchase chemical pesticides and animal vaccines, the poorest are left exposed. Sometimes it’s a question of money but often, knowledge can help too.

We worked with local government staff to teach the villagers about the underlying causes of diseases and infestation, the importance of the seedling stage and ways of reducing outbreaks, based largely on natural repellent insecticides made with locally available ingredients. They can then pass this information on to the communities they support.

Vaccinating a chicken against diseases can cost just over 50p per year- but it is vital to get the right vaccines in the right quantities and at the right intervals.

Families told us that their poultry were generally killed by two common diseases – fowl cholera and Newcastle disease. Participants were then given training on how to improve the conditions that contribute to outbreaks, and offered demonstrations on handling chickens and administering the vaccines.

Save the Children supporting vaccinations for the most vulnerable families' livestock

“This training is important for the communities as it provides knowledge that will enable families to respond better to floods in the future,” said Mr. Sythanong Choumalavong, who works for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in the District of Bolikhan. “It adds value to our common knowledge of rice cultivation and poultry raising.”

For vulnerable families such as those living in Ms Pot’s village, these lessons are even more useful than cash grants; the latter may stem immediate problems but the former will enable the villagers to protect valuable food and income sources next time floods hit, so they can recover more quickly and feed their families in the interim. We can’t alter the weather – but we can do a lot to mitigate its effects.

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