A mountainous, landlocked country, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is one of the most sparsely populated countries in Asia. Its predominantly rural population lives in over 10,000 villages – most of which have but a few hundred inhabitants – in remote areas. Due to difficult access, people in these scattered communities face challenges to access essential services.
In recent years, Lao PDR ranked as one of the fastest growing economies in East Asia and the Pacific, but the benefits are not evenly spread across regions. Although the proportion of hungry poor fell from 33 to 23 percent in the last decade, the 2015 Global Hunger Index still defines the situation in the country as “serious”.
Three quarters of households are engaged in agriculture. Whether in irrigated paddies in the valleys, or in rain-fed upland fields, rice is cultivated by 90 percent of farmers and constitutes the main staple. Only one third of farmers grow additional crops. Coupled with the declining availability of forest foods due to deforestation and unsustainable gathering methods, this means that the diets of vulnerable communities are poorly diversified.
Together with suboptimal child feeding practices – including limited breastfeeding – low education levels and difficult access to basic health services, this contributes to malnutrition remaining a serious challenge.
Vulnerability to climate change – and particularly drought, floods and typhoons – is also a driver of food insecurity, which affects 14 percent of the rural population, with peaks of 25 percent in remote upland areas. Other factors include declining land availability, volatile prices, low agricultural productivity, difficult access to markets and lack of diversified livelihood options.
Having established a presence in Lao PDR in 1975, the World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting the Lao Government’s vision of “a prosperous country, with a healthy population, free from food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty”.
In its approach, WFP is gradually shifting from the delivery of services to building the capacity of both institutions and communities to address the challenges of food insecurity and malnutrition.
As the population is scattered over vast areas where access can be difficult, strengthening the self-reliance of communities for solving their own food security problems is central to WFP’s strategy. By promoting changes in people’s behaviour – such as introducing complementary, nutritious crops; diversifying diets; improving infant and young child feeding practices; and enhancing communities’ ownership of initiatives like school feeding – WFP aims to improve the nutritional status of vulnerable people throughout their life cycle, as well as their resilience to seasonal and long-term shocks and stresses.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Lao PDR
To ensure enhanced service delivery – especially in hard-to-reach areas – by 2025, WFP provides technical support to government institutions and strengthens the capacity of villagers to prepare three-year multi-sectoral, nutrition-sensitive village development plans enabling communities to ensure food and nutrition security with their own resources.
WFP supports the Lao Government in promoting access to food for schoolchildren in 1,500 schools with the goal to improve education indicators, especially in remote and ethnically diverse areas. The school meals programme is designed in a way to become sustainable by involving local farmers and communities in the provision of food.
In order to bring stunting rates in the areas most severely affected by malnutrition in line with the 25 percent national target by 2025, WFP works to build the capacity of institutions to promote better nutrition; explore options for locally available and affordable nutritious food; address specific requirements of children under 2 by providing fortified food; and promote better infant and child feeding practices.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and partner NGOs, WFP works to enhance climate-adaptive local food production; strengthen the capacity of smallholder farmers through diversified and improved agricultural practices; support programmes for the creation of assets and the provision of alternative livelihood options for vulnerable communities.