VIENTIANE — The mountainous, landlocked country of Laos is one of the last remaining communist states in the world and is one of Asia’s poorest countries. Despite Laos’ economic reforms and the receipt of foreign aid after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the country remains in a state of poverty.
The predominantly rural population is spread over 10,000 villages, with there being no more than a few hundred inhabitants in each, and being located primarily in remote areas. The scattered nature of the Lao villages makes access difficult, putting the villages in a difficult situation in terms of access to essential services.
Hunger in Laos is one of the country’s largest problems, with food insecurity affecting 14 percent of the rural population, and reaching 25 percent in more remote areas. Malnutrition among children is another major problem affecting Laos, with those in rural areas being at the greatest risk and being less likely to attend school because of their conditions.
It has not all been negative, however, as the proportion of hungry fell from 33 to 23 percent over the last decade. Despite this, the 2015 Global Hunger Index still defines the situation in Laos as “serious.”
One of the leading reasons as to why hunger in Laos is such a large problem is the cultivation of rice. One of the staple foods in Laos is sticky rice, which is usually cultivated on steep hillsides. In years with low yields from the rice harvest, there is often not enough for a family to make ends meet, leading them to depend on external food aid.
There are some positive advances, such as Welthungerhilfe and its partner organization, LADCA, responsible for teaching 4,000 inhabitants how to increase the yields from their farming. In addition to this, it also distributed new, high-yield seed which can produce twice as much as the previous crop. With the water channels being laid in arable land, wet rice can be harvested all year long.
The Ta-Oy, an ethnic minority group living in the mountains, created fishponds and fruit tree plantations. This has allowed them to be paid for their work by Welthungerhlife, as well as being able to earn money by constructing roads and paths.
Focusing on solutions that allow remote populations to be self-sufficient could pay off in innumerable ways, from healthcare outcomes to educational achievement. These are just a few organizations doing good work to help Laos on the path to prosperity.
– Drew Fox