Agri innovation project ends but further farmer development needed

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems project has ended, but there is a need for further development of target farmers’ groups.

That was the message at the project’s final workshop held in Vientiane last week to assess achievements over four years, with experts calling on farmers to take steps to boost productivity.

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Phouang Parisack Pravongviengkham, chaired the workshop. Participants included researchers, experts and representatives of farmers’ groups targeted by the project, especially those engaged in cattle rearing, pig fattening, fish breeding, and growing rice and organic vegetables.

The project has been operating since 2016 in Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Laos and Rwanda to develop agricultural innovations.

It has focused on coaching three levels of stakeholders - local innovators, supporting organisations, and the country-enabling environment - to allow farmers to improve themselves through a learning-by-doing process.

Locally, the project brought together the National Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute, Department of Technical Extension and Agro-Processing, the National University of Laos and others to develop capacities in innovations for rice quality, pig and cattle breeding, organic vegetables, and rice-field aquatic proteins.

The French-based CIRAD focal point continuously trained local staff, and soft mentoring by local facilitators helped farmers develop production capacities for processing, marketing, and accessing funds and equipment.

The farmers learned ‘by doing’ and being mentored, firstly to identify and characterise existing agricultural innovations (agro-ecological transition successes, noteworthy local innovations, pioneering value chains and successful extension systems), and then developing partnerships with provincial Agricultural and Forestry departments to create a national database on agricultural innovations (technical, organisational and marketing).

Based on issues raised by the targeted groups, the project has organised a policy dialogue process which provides a pathway for improving mutual understanding among stakeholders.

This included identifying priority policy areas, recommendations to enhance participation among stake-holders and proposed actions plans. During the project, local staff successfully worked together to coach agricultural innovations while implementing the existing framework and adapting it to the Lao context.

The project also indicated that helping to innovate the agriculture sector was one of the challenges in meeting the sustainable development goals.

This included developing new soft skills among farmers and other stakeholders involved in production improvement and value chain development.

During the meeting, Dr Phouang said the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was committed to overcoming Capacity Development for Agricultural Innovation Systems challenges. He was delighted with the tremendous progress made in local support for agricultural innovations and commitment by organisations to develop an enabling environment.

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