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Improving livelihoods and food security through alternative development in Lao PDR

Oudomxay (Lao PDR), 20 December 2012
- A dozen years ago, Ms. Sy Chan Vakongxiong and her family grew opium poppies. Her income was erratic, varied greatly from year to year, and was often insufficient to support her family.

Today, thanks to a UNODC project, the mother of five now is a member of an organic farming group., She grows mangoes, grapes and a variety of organic vegetables in her own greenhouse. Her income has nearly doubled since she joined the UNODC-programme in 2009.

"Thanks to our hard work and UNODC's help, we now have the skills, knowledge and incentive to cultivate vegetables and fruit trees. This has improved our livelihoods - and gives me hope," said Ms. Sy Chan.

An ethnic Hmong from Naseankham village in Oudomxay province, Ms. Sy was one of the first to benefit from UNODC Lao PDR alternative development programmes. Now, she is part of a production group made up of fifteen other organic fruit and vegetable farmers in her village, who meet to share their ideas and experience.

UNODC began its alternative development programme in two pilot villages in Oudomxay province in 2009. The pilot project -set up in cooperation with the Thai Royal Project Foundation (RPF) and the Thai Highland Research and Development Institute (HRDI) - supported farmers by providing technical assistance, study visits to farms in Thailand and superior quality seeds. The programme also built a water supply system for the village and a water storage tank for irrigation.

Funded by Germany, Luxembourg and the European Union, UNODC alternative development projects take a community-centered approach to address food security, drug demand reduction, vulnerable communities and income generation. They also provide access to micro credit and basic infrastructure, and - most importantly - provide sustainable alternative livelihoods to people and communities once dependent on the cultivation of opium.

Since 2009, the UNODC Lao PDR alternative development programme has offered to help over 75,000 people in 175 different villages learn skills and develop long-term sustainable alternatives to growing opium poppy. The skills learned have, in some cases, helped start successful small businesses that benefit their community.

In Houay Oun, the other village in the pilot project, Mr. Bounthan Thipmanila, proudly showed off a small second-hand delivery truck.

Mr.Thipmanila's parents used to be opium poppy cultivators. Now a father of two children, he used to grow rice and corn; and raised pigs on a small scale. Living conditions were difficult and his family suffered from long periods of food insecurity and had to borrow money from relatives to make ends meet.

With the assistance of UNODC Lao PDR's alternative development project, Bounthan was able to diversify his production, increase his yearly income more than six-fold and greatly improved his family's food security.

"In the beginning, we were skeptical about vegetable cultivation," said Mr. Bounthan Thipmanila. "Now we see that it generates income and has improved our lives. In the past, we ate only two meals per day. Now, with our improved income, we can have three meals every day."

The programme helped the village establish rice banks, distribute tools for paddy land cultivation and address food insecurity. It also gave people access to funds for small-scale investment. This assistance enabled Bounthan to acquire enough capital to purchase seedlings and materials to build a greenhouse to grow vegetables.

The cultivation of vegetables has enabled Bounthan to generate better and more stable income. His greenhouse allows him to produce food all year round - even in the rainy season. He estimates that over US$ 5,000 of his US$ 7,250 annual income is derived from the vegetables in his greenhouse.

These vast improvements to Bounthan's livelihood allowed him to purchase a second hand truck to deliver his product to nearby markets. It also helps him provide better education for his children.
"I am very happy that the UNODC project has come and helped me to improve living conditions for me and my family," he said, smiling that now his relatives come and borrow money from him.

Funded by Germany, Luxembourg and the European Union, the UNODC alternative livelihoods programmes that operate in Laos include the Balanced approach to opium elimination in Lao PDR programme, the Increasing food security, promoting licit crop production and small farmer enterprise development in Houaphan province, and the Phongsaly Alternative Livelihood and Food Security (PALAFS).