“Every day we’re met with smiles!”

August 11, 2019

We’ve reported many times on the impacts and ongoing efforts of our mentoring and volunteer program in Laos PDR which has been running since 2009.

Now we have a cost-benefit analysis of the program by senior ANU economists which has found that our investment could potentially return benefits in the order of 5 to 15 times the expenditure in terms of crops protected and that there were many other very significant capacity building and institutional benefits that could not be quantified.

The quantified benefits included in the ANU analysis primarily represented the avoided production losses small-holder farmers in Savannakhet and Champasak province have enjoyed from employing integrated plant disease and pest management strategies promoted through our mentoring and volunteering program. Avoided production losses were quantified in terms of additional revenues compared to if these strategies were not employed.

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.

Professor Lester Burgess, former Dean of Agriculture and now Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney, has been at the helm for 10 years and now the program has expanded to include another lead mentor, Professor Deirdre Lemerle. Deirdre is Adjunct Research Professor at Charles Sturt University’s Graham Centre and had 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.

To launch the ANU report, we have produced this short video with lead mentor, Professor Lester Burgess, former Dean of Agriculture and now Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney, explaining the 10 year program.

Activities supported by the mentoring program in Laos have included 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.

There have been around 30 volunteers involved in our work in Laos, supported and placed through the Government’s Australian Volunteers Program, but also some New Colombo Plan scholars or self-funded volunteers.

And we need more volunteers in agronomy, biosecurity, plant diseases and pests, weed management, soil improvement and social sciences, especially around gender equity and women’s empowerment. Down the track we will also be including animal production and veterinary health work. We’d love to hear from you and you can contact Lester and Deirdre to talk over options.

And you can support our program in Laos through a tax-deductible donation. Every bit helps!

We have had a number of other videos about the program, including on: