We are incredibly proud of our long-running mentoring program in Laos, which is being used as a model for our other mentoring initiatives. A recent cost benefit analysis of the program by senior ANU economists found that our investment could potentially return benefits in the order of 5 to 15 times the expenditure in terms of crops protected. The study also pointed out that there were many other very significant capacity building and institutional benefits that could not be quantified.
Running since 2009 with Professor Lester Burgess at the helm, this program focuses on supporting a team of young Australian volunteers to improve crop and soil health, biosecurity, food safety, weed control and, ultimately, food security. The program has expanded now to include another lead mentor, Professor Deirdre Lemerle, an agricultural weed scientist.
Lester is the former Dean of Agriculture and now Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney and has mentored local people in Vietnam China, Indonesia, Tunisia, and Laos over the past 25 years. Deirdre is Adjunct Research Professor at Charles Sturt University’s Graham Centre, and she worked for 25 years at the Department of Primary Industries, NSW and led the Cropping Program of the Weeds Co-operative Research Centre for 10 years.
They spend time in Laos and back in Australia managing our program to mentor young Australian volunteers, Laos partners and their e-mentor network.
Activities supported by the mentoring program in Laos to-date include holding workshops for farmers on using pesticides safely, in identifying and treating pests and diseases and in managing weeds; building a plant shade house for seedlings; providing a training visit to Australia for a key Lao partner, Ms Seng Phantavong; assisting a refuge for sex-trafficked girls to grow a successful vegetable garden, and identifying significant pests and diseases of cash crops such as watermelons and providing training on their cost-effective treatment.
Donations to this program will go towards much needed diagnostic and other equipment and assist both mentors and in-country volunteers to travel to more farms.
You can hear from Lester during a recent trip to Laos, along with former volunteer and now mentor Madaline Healey, and in country technicians working with us in this recent series of videos.