Lots done in last Laos visit before COVID-19

April 9, 2020

In February 2020, Professor Deirdre Lemerle, a member of the NSW Committee of the Crawford Fund, again visited the Lao PDR to undertake capacity building and mentoring volunteers working in the rice-based farming systems of Savannakhet Province. The work is associated with ACIAR projects around weed management and direct seeded rice.

Dr Lemerle and Dr Phoudalay discuss pests and weeds in irrigated rice with a rice farmer at Champone District (left). Dr Lemerle presenting Weed ID & Management training to NAFRI staff at RRC in Vientiane (right).

As reported most recently, our mentoring program in Laos marches forward. The aim of our program is to improve the profitability and sustainability of lowland rice-based production systems of Laos by increasing human resource capacity and gender equity in agricultural development for both Lao PDR and Australia, thereby improving food production and human nutrition.

“This is a collaboration between rice growers, the National Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI), the Provincial Agricultural and Forestry Office (PAFO), the District Agricultural and Forestry Offices (DAFO), the Australian Volunteers Program, and coordinated by the Crawford Fund  with strong links to the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). In-kind contribution of expert advice and mentoring is also provided by a range of individuals from various government and non-government organisations. 

“Matt Champness has just completed a 12-month Australian Volunteers Program assignment. He developed with farmers and their advisers several non-chemical solutions to reduce weed impacts in rice,” reported Deirdre on her return. 

“Matt played an important technical role and PAFO embraced his innovations for weed control, especially the ‘whippa snippa’ inter-row weeder.” A report from Matt will be posted soon.

“Stephen Lang’s 12-month volunteer assignment was cut short by three months due to COVID-19. Stephen examined soil improvement using various organic amendments to increase productivity and soil health. He also increased the local regional soil testing capacity,” said Deirdre.

Stephen Lang setting up his soil liming experiment in the Crawford Fund/PAFO greenhouse at Savannakhet (left). Stephen Lang examining rice varieties with Mr Singty Deputy Director at NAFRI Thasano Research Centre (right).

She noted that field days during her trip explained and demonstrated these technologies and were attended by more than 100 farmers and their advisers from four villages in two districts. Stephen is also penning a blog for us.

“We thank all field day participants for their support and acknowledge financial assistance from the Crawford Fund and the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation (Charles Sturt University & NSW DPI),” she said.

Second field day at Thapansathong District.

It was a busy three weeks in Laos, in which Deirdre also delivered laboratory equipment and assisted Stephen with the development of the Soils Laboratory at PAFO Savannakhet. She also presented a Weed ID & Management training course to NAFRI staff in Vientiane at the Rice Research Centre.

“During 2020/21, I plan to provide on-going mentoring and support and to continue to build the program. Follow-on volunteer assignments will be developed with PAFO and the NAFRI, based on their needs and depending on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deirdre.