For Ki Her, the head of Kioutaloun village in mountainous northern Lao PDR, and 95 percent of the population who grow rice, the change in the weather over the past several years presents significant challenges.
With shorter but more intense rainy seasons, followed by longer dry seasons, farmers are struggling to figure out when is the best time to plant. Moreover, increasing numbers of landslides, land erosion and severe flooding are further affecting the crops grown on the slopes of the northern uplands.
To cope with the challenge the community is seeking alternative crops that can be more profitable and reliable than rice.
To help achieve this, the Kioutaloun community, along with three other villages, received US$50,000 in 2011 from the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, implemented by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to plant non-rice crops to cope with the changing weather patterns. The initiative has benefited more than 2,000 people.
The project builds on the villager’s local knowledge about the most productive crops to plant and farmers receive support in purchasing seedlings and training on land preparation and planting techniques.
Manfred Staab, a UNDP technical advisor to the National Agricultural Forestry Research Institute says crop diversification is crucial to improve farmer’s resilience.
“If you have more options than one, then, if something happens to you, you are not as easily derailed from your main source of income, or your food security is not as easily in danger,” Staab said.
Another farmer, Tai On, and his family are referred to as the model farmers in Kioutaloun. They conduct workshops within the community to share their farming knowledge on planting alternative crops. After a trip to Thailand three years ago, where Tai On saw farmers earning money from lemons, he started investing in lemon orchards, which now cover on more than half his land.
“The lemon trees now have fruit all year round. I use the lemons for cooking and to sell at the market,” he said.
He can get US$0.25 US per kilogramme for his lemons during the rainy season and three times as much in the dry season, when lemon production in the lowlands drops. He is also planting sweet bamboo, which he discovered grows easily, prevents soil erosion and, like lemons, can be sold at the market all year round.
According to Ki Her, the average additional income a household can earn from alternative crops, including lemons, cucumbers and sweet bamboo, is about US$375. This is a significant amount in a country where the GDP per capita is about US$1,200.
As well as working directly with communities, UNDP is also supporting the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to improve the resilience of the agriculture sector to climate change (IRAS).
The four-year IRAS project aims to produce 10 to 15 successful intervention models that farmers can draw on to make them more resilient in the face of changing environmental conditions.-Toby Fricker