SEATTLE, Washington — Laos is a landlocked nation in Southeast Asia, that is wedged between Thailand, Vietnam and China. The country faces severe hunger issues, as indicated by its 2019 Global Hunger Index score of 25.7. The Global Hunger Index takes into account inadequate food supplies, child malnourishment and child mortality. According to this quantifier, with a score of 25.7, Laos lies within the top 30 hungriest countries in the world. The ranking is an indication of the severity of the hunger crisis in Laos.
Implications of the Hunger Crisis
An estimated 79.9% of Laotians engage in farming and 59% of these farmers are engaged solely in subsistence agriculture. Food security is a serious issue for Laotian farmers as droughts and floods often wipe out entire fields of crops. Even in a successful harvest, there still lies the danger of malnourishment. The basic staple of farmers is the production of rice, primarily for home consumption.
Less than 50% of children between the ages of 6 to 23 months old meet the recommended minimum diversity of food. The over precedence of rice in Laotion diets deprives the people of essential proteins, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. This reliance can have devastating effects on an individual’s health and well-being, especially in children.
The hunger crisis in Laos has severe consequences. It is estimated that over 40% of children in Laos are stunted due to malnourishment. Stunting happens very early on in a child’s development, specifically within the first two years. Without the proper nutrients, the child will be left with irreparable damage in the brain and other vital organ systems, leaving them stunted and feeble for life. Moreover, an estimated 14,000 children in Laos die before the age of five and around 6000 of these child deaths result from malnutrition.
Resolving Hunger and Malnutrition in Laos
The people of Laos are taking steps to combat hunger in the country. Many rural families forage the jungle for added nutrition and insects are particularly popular. In Laos, it is a cultural norm to eat insects and the health and nutritional benefits can be quite profound. In fact, the country of Laos is known to be one of the largest consumers of insects in the world. In 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched an edible insect project in Laos in support of the consumption of insects for nutrition,
While undernourishment remains a high 27% among the general population, it is crucial to recognize that this figure has dropped by 40% in the last few decades. The country is struggling, but they are making progress. Ending hunger in Laos is not unfeasible. Organizations such as Accelerating Healthy Agriculture and Nutrition (AHAN) and Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (AVSF) have been making great strides in helping end hunger in Laos.
For example, AHAN teaches critical self-sustainable gardening practices, which is particularly invaluable in the time of COVID-19. Home gardens are vital when families do not have access to regular food supplies due to closures of local markets. The initial investment in tools, teaching and seeds can have a tremendous payoff. Additionally, the organization AVSF launched a three-year project in 2018 to promote food security in rural villages in Laos.
According to the World Bank, “Current rates of maternal and child malnutrition represent a loss of human capital potential costing Lao PDR an estimated 2.4% of Gross Domestic Product annually.” If strong efforts are made to eradicate the hunger crisis in Laos, the economy is likely to benefit greatly from the healthier labor force. Overall, the situation is serious but not hopeless and the benefits of solving the hunger issue in Laos far outweigh the costs.
– Jacob Pugmire