Australia celebrates 70 years of partnership with Lao PDR

06 June 2022
Paul Kelly in Laos

This year, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and Australia are celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations, with ACIAR playing an important role in the success of the partnership.

‘What’s really compelling is that it is an unbroken diplomatic relationship – that is a pretty remarkable statement of commitment and cooperation,’ said Australian Ambassador to Lao PDR, Paul Kelly.

‘The establishment of long-term relationships between ACIAR-funded researchers and local communities has led to profound impacts on the day-to-day lives and wellbeing of people in Laos,’ said Mr Kelly.

ACIAR first funded research in the country in 1990 and has since supported more than 100 agricultural research projects, working closely with Lao farmers to improve the productivity and sustainability of agricultural systems.

Ms Phanmaly Xaiyakhaunnee is a researcher at the ACIAR funded tissue culture lab in Souphanavong University in Luang Prabang. Here she is tending teak seedling in the lab.
Ms Phanmaly Xaiyakhaunnee, a researcher at Souphanavong University in Luang Prabang, inspects teak seedlings as part of  ACIAR-funded research to enhance and diversify smallholder livelihoods through teak-based agroforestry.

ACIAR projects have aligned with and complemented the Lao Government’s Agricultural Development Strategy in adding value and promoting sustainable use and management of natural resources.

Around 70% of the Lao population live in rural areas and rely on agricultural activities for their livelihoods.

With poverty 3 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas, building the income-generating capacity of rural farming communities has been a high priority for ACIAR and the Lao Government.

ACIAR projects in the area include restoring fish habitats and migration routes through the Fisheries Research Program.

‘Fish is a large part of the Lao diet and a source of income,’ said Dulce Carandang Simmanivong, Regional Manager of East and South-East Asia.

‘But communities were seeing a decline in fish numbers because their natural habitat had been impacted and fish weren’t able to reproduce.’

Working closely with community members, ACIAR researchers introduced fish ‘ladders’ which allow fish to traverse rivers despite obstacles such as dams. These structures have helped increase fish stocks and in turn, nutritional security.

fish ladder being installed
A fish ladder being installed in 2012 as part of long-running ACIAR-funded research to protect fish stocks in the Mekong River basin.

‘The species that had disappeared are now back and communities now have better access to protein that they can eat or sell,’ said Ms Carandang Simmanivong

Other research projects in the country include improving the efficiency of rice-based farming system through mechanisation. 

Dr Chay Bounphanousay, Director General of the Lao National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute, credits ACIAR-supported mechanisation projects with improving smallholder livelihoods in Lao communities, particularly the livelihoods of women.

‘Mechanisation options such as the use of a seed drill to replace hand-transplanting, and a combine harvester instead of hand-harvesting saves time,’ said Dr Bounphanousay ‘That time can be used for other activities, which has a major social impact.

Khamphouviong Chanthavorysa is a rice farmer in Khammouane province in Central Laos, because she and her husband now use machines in rice farming, she now has more time to other farming activities such as growing vegetables
Khamphouviong Chanthavorysa is a rice farmer in Khammouane province in Central Laos who recently switched to using direct seeding machines.

‘Women, who have traditionally spent more time hand-harvesting rice than men, now have considerably more time to spend on alternative activities.’

The research partnerships established between Australian and Lao farmers and scientists will have lasting benefits for natural resource management, women and farming communities.

‘Agricultural research is critical to building resilience, ensuring food security and safeguarding the livelihoods of Lao’s rural communities,’ said General Manager Country Partnerships, Dr Peter Horne.

‘There are many agricultural challenges on the horizon, especially with the effects of climate change and the onset of new biosecurity issues so a strong partnership between Australian and Lao researchers will be critical to enhancing community resilience.’

ACIAR is currently funding 16 research projects in Lao PDR that align and support the Lao Government's Agricultural Development Strategy. Learn more via the ACIAR website.