Madaline Healey

Volunteers for food security in Laos

An innovative team volunteering initiative of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, is supporting Lao farmers to improve crop quality and crop yields.

This is a key finding of a new report released by the AVID program, that sends approximately 20 volunteers to Laos every year. The team volunteering initiative was developed through collaboration between the Crawford Fund, an Australian organisation that supports international agricultural research, and Scope Global, delivery partner of the AVID program in Laos.

To date, nine Australian volunteers who have trained and worked as entomologists, plant pathologists and a biosecurity specialists in Australia have come to volunteer in Vientiane, Pakse and Savannakhet since 2012.

“It is a matter of relationships first, then the science will follow,” says volunteer Kylie Ireland, a Diagnostic Plant Pathologist from Canberra, Australia’s capital city.

Each volunteer has partnered with a Provincial Agriculture and Forestry (PAFO) staff member to help build their capacity in identifying plant diseases, cataloging which insects are pests and which are beneficial to food production, and other skills vital to agricultural development.

30 global experts in agricultural science from the Crawford Fund mentored the volunteers (remotely via email) during their assignments. Through the e-mentoring system, a vast pool of international expertise was available to the volunteers and PAFO staff whenever they encountered a challenge.

Crawford Fund staff also visited the volunteers in country and supported their work on the ground.

“A feature of our program [is] that we have formal workshops given by colleagues with lots of experience in the particular area,” says Crawford Fund’s Professor Lester Burgess who has worked in Laos for many years and led the support for the volunteers. “Then we have the volunteer on the ground who can provide follow-up training.”

Together, the volunteers, PAFO staff and their mentors from the Crawford Fund have built new laboratories, established comprehensives lists of plant pests and diseases and contributed to the academic literature concerning agricultural science in Laos.

PAFO staff report that their skills and knowledge have increased thanks to the volunteers and they are also more confident in their ability to support farmers, who have been engaged in the project through repeated farm visits and participation in training workshops.

The full report can be found at www.scopeglobal.com/volunteers-for-food-security-in-laos/