During 2018 Professor Deirdre Lemerle, member of NSW-Crawford Fund and the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation (an alliance between Charles Sturt University & NSW DPI), visited the Lao PDR to explore the need for capacity building in weed management in the rice-based farming systems of Savannakhet Province.
Professor Lemerle was originally invited to visit Laos with Professor Lester Burgess in November 2016. The aim was to explore the potential to expand the biosecurity capacity building to include weeds, mainly in dry-season vegetables. In 2017 she took part in two training biosecurity workshops for small-holder farmers. These visits helped develop an understanding of Lao farming systems and Lao cultural nuances. It seemed that the greatest need for weed management support was likely to be in the rice-based cropping systems of Savannakhet Province.
She found that more than 80% of farmers are still using only hand-weeding, and that herbicide use is very limited. The main problem weed species present are grasses and sedges and farmers want new control techniques that are cheaper, require less labour and are more cost-effective. They also need assistance with weed identification. Weeds are a major constraint to the adoption of more sustainable and water-efficient sowing systems, such as direct-seeding that also saves labour.
Future work in 2019 will address these issues through a collaboration between Lao Provincial and District Governments, the Crawford Fund, the Australian Volunteer Program and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. The aim is to develop integrated weed management for farmers to reduce impacts of weeds on rice production systems, improve human nutrition, and increase farmers’ incomes.