Crawford Fund mentoring program in Laos marches forward

October 17, 2019

It’s been a busy time for our mentors and volunteers in Laos. Professor Deirdre Lemerle has recently returned from another visit associated with our capacity building and mentoring around the rice-based farming systems of Savannakhet Province. This follows her visit in July which you can read about here.

This is a collaboration between farmers, Lao National, Provincial and District Governments (NAFRI, PAFO & DAFO), the Crawford Fund, the Australian Volunteers Program and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Deirdre’s visit was soon followed by a trip by our other lead mentor Professor Lester Burgess, which will be reported soon.

Volunteers Matt Champness (left) and Stephen Lang (right) examining rice crops with mentor Deirdre Lemerle (centre)

Readers may recall that agronomists from Australia, Matt Champness and Stephen Lang, have followed around 30 other volunteers we have had in Laos – they are currently on 12-month assignments through the Australian Volunteers Program in weeds and soil improvement.

They are working to demonstrate a range of nonchemical weed control tactics in direct-seeded rice, and to improve soil condition and productivity with organic amendments. Field demonstrations and workshops are used for extension and training with farmers and advisers. The work aims to increase rice production, improve human nutrition, and increase farmers’ incomes. The program will expand capacity building over the next three years in Laos and for Australia in international agricultural development.

Visiting farming family to discuss rice production

Following on from their field work, Deirdre and Matt attended the Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society (APWSS) conference.

“Our oral presentation, ‘Developing weed management for direct-seeded rice systems in the Lao PDR’, was given by Matt. The conference was an important opportunity for him to develop his international R&D network and potential for future collaboration, and career options. Matt also gained much knowledge of weed control options, capacity building and successful extension from presentations in neighbouring Cambodia and Myanmar,” reported Deirdre on her return.

Matt Champness presenting a paper at the APWSS Conference in Kuching Malaysia

While at the conference, Deirdre, together with several other female weed scientists, initiated a Women’s International Network (WIN) within APWSS aiming to elevate and support the roles of women in weed science. Deirdre will chair the APWSS-WIN for two years.

Inaugural meeting of the Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society – Women’s International Network chaired by Deirdre Lemerle

And we are pleased to report that Matt recently won the Novice Category for the Australian Farm Institute’s 2019 John Ralph Essay Competition on the Future of Animal Agriculture.