Home' Partners : Partners: Empowering women, changing lives Contents PARTNERS ISSUE ONE 2016
of people and the land,” she says. “But if less than
30 people produce organic vegetables for sale,
then most of the people in Xieng Khouang are still
consuming conventional produce.”
According to the provincial agriculture office,
more than 10 tonnes of vegetables is sold in the
markets every week; the organic market sells less
than that over six months.
To bump up the number of people who can
buy and consume organic produce, Ms Buachanh
wants to expand the number of association
members that market organic vegetables. ACIAR
has offered critical support to help Ms Buachanh
and the general association membership create
strategies and plan this new phase.
EXTENDING THE MESSAGE
Leaders from two ACIAR projects are cooperating
with the local government to improve the
management of agricultural extension services.
These same efforts are also promoting the
participatory development of methods to better
support farmer organisations.
One important shift in extension management
introduced by the ACIAR projects is the concept
of district-wide orientation replacing the
common village-by-village focus within the local
government District Agriculture and Forestry
Office (DAFO) planning.
Previously, DAFO looked at one village at a
time and was quite satisfied with the success of
30 families selling organic produce. However,
when they used the project’s tools they identified
more than one billion kip (about A$180,000) in
potential increased annual sales from organic
In that context, the small number of sellers no
longer seemed impressive; annual sales currently
amount to just over one hundred million kip (less
than A$18,000). At this point, DAFO leadership
became serious about supporting the same kind
of expansion Ms Buachanh aspires to achieve,
albeit from a different perspective.
A major challenge faced by both DAFO and
the association’s leadership was providing a
framework for substantial expansion in activity.
DAFO revisited its services to cover as many of
the villages in the district as possible, rather than
focusing on a few.
The association was similarly no longer
thinking narrowly about helping a few centrally
located farmers produce for the provincial capital.
Rather, the thinking extended to involving women
from across the district—especially those with
larger production areas—in producing organic
vegetables for local and possibly distant markets.
Important issues for the association members
were ensuring that all new members maintained
organic standards and that the market could
handle increased production.
In response, the ACIAR projects coordinated a
series of studies carried out by representatives of
both the potential new members and association
leadership in partnership with DAFO.
These studies identified organisational changes
that would allow association members, working
together in teams, to monitor and coach new
producers to ensure quality and organic standards.
At the same time, by bulking their product at the
village level, they have designed new ways for
members to sell their product efficiently.
Willingness to take these steps was a major
breakthrough; previously, the association
remained wedded to the idea of each producer
selling her own produce directly to consumers
at the organic marketplace. Allowing women to
sell through peer groups allows more distant and
smaller producers to get their produce to market
in a cost-effective way.
Once the study participants—and their
friends and neighbours—analysed, discussed and
understood these new mechanisms, more than 500
women and men indicated interest in joining the
association to produce and sell organic vegetables.
Supported by ACIAR funds, the DAFO team
has worked with association members to
introduce nearly 200 families in 10 villages to the
basics of organic farming and positioned them to
join the ranks of association members producing
for the market.
Ms Khamdta is a grower who has attended the
technical training provided by the association and
has turned her garden into a model of integrated
organic farming. She grows onions, lettuces,
Chinese cabbages, shallots, peas, mustard greens,
cilantro, celery leaves, dill and lots more on a small
plot behind her house.
She is producing a surplus, she says, but has
been waiting for induction into the association to
be allowed to sell at the dedicated organic market.
The association, working hand-in-hand with
DAFO, is in the process of expanding membership
by at least 160 households in the next six months. It
is recruiting new members to produce vegetables
with a strong focus on sale rather than consumption.
Changes in the way farmers market their
produce are also being considered. Ms Khamdta,
for example, would struggle to attend the
twice-weekly market. If the new method of
selling through a representative were adopted,
she could concentrate on production and would
happily pay a fee (to cover the marketer’s time
and costs) in order to benefit from greater sales of
If these milestones are achieved, the women
will have made serious strides towards increasing
the local economy by adding billions of kip in
local sales of healthy, environmentally sustainable
organic vegetables. n
ACIAR PROJECTS: ASEM/2011/075 ‘Enhancing district
delivery and management of agriculture extension in
Lao PDR’ and ASEM/2014/102 ‘Critical factors for self-
sustaining farmer organisations in northern Lao PDR’
MORE INFORMATION: Michael Jones, umalemusan@
gmail.com; John Connell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mrs Pew and the son she
supports in college in
Vientiane with the proceeds
from her organic vegetables.
Organically grown lettuce and
onions in the northern Lao province
of Xieng Khouang.
Mrs Khamdta (right) has turned her garden into a model of integrated
organic farming. She is pictured with Ms Buachanh, the president of the
board of directors of the organic vegetable growers’ association, which
is expanding market opportunities for farmers such as Mrs Khamdta.
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