Participatory, Learning and Action (PLA) Project for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management in Lao PDR
SUBMITTED ORGANISATION :
Overseas Environmental Cooperation Center (OECC)
DATE OF SUBMISSION :
Lao People's Democratic Republic (Xiangkhouang Province)
Overseas Environmental Cooperation Center, Japan (OECC) Technical Committee commenced a scheme “the SATO Village Framework Development Plan in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos)” in fiscal year 2008. This scheme was conducted independently by OECC to facilitate the SATOYAMA Initiative proposed by the IPSI. Based on the SATO Village Framework Plan, OECC solicited applications from the public in Laos, and the judging committee consisting of Japanese and Laotian experts selected “Participatory, Learning and Action (PLA) for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (in Don Kham, Xieng Khouang)” proposed by the Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos as the supporting project. The project was carried out for six months starting in June 2011. During the project implementation, OECC had provided advises to follow the concept of SATOYAMA Initiative, and dispatched a research team to assess the project’s performance and outcomes to identify lessons learnt in practical basis. This paper describes project activities specifically about NVS (contour cropping), which was introduced to prevent degradation of the agricultural land fertility from lowering. For further information, please refer: http://www.oecc.or.jp/english/contents/satovillage.html
Technical Committee, Overseas Environmental Cooperation Center, Japan
Overseas Environmental Cooperation Center, Japan (OECC) Technical Committee commenced a scheme “the SATO Village Framework Development Plan in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos)” in fiscal year 2008. This scheme was conducted independently by OECC to facilitate the SATOYAMA Initiative proposed by the IPSI, with a Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) approach designed for the villages in the north of Laos to promote socio-ecological production system (landscape) for the purpose of harmonizing environmental conservation with rural development.
The OECC’s draft scheme, based on a preliminary research in the target area in 2010, was publicized at the OECC’s exhibit booth at the Interactive Fair for Biodiversity, which was held in conjunction with the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 10). Then, OECC solicited applications from the public in Laos, and the judging committees consisting of Japanese and Laotian experts selected “Participatory, Learning and Action (PLA) for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (in Don Kham, Xieng Khouang)” by the Faculty of Agriculture, National University of Laos as the supporting project.
Items of the project activities were 1) Introduction of NVS (contour cropping), 2) Vaccination, 3) Waterwheel application for irrigation in dry season and 4) Silage making and use.
2. Outline of Project Site – Don Khan Village
Don Kham village is situated in Kham district, Xieng Khouang province （See Map） and is approximately 520m to 570m above the sea level. The village has a population of approximately 440 and there are 68 houses. The gross area of Don Kham is approximately 170ha, of which, 3ha are for housing, 6ha for remaining forest used as graveyard and 161ha for farmlands to grow corn and rice among others. Don Kham is divided into the five zones by height above sea-level and land use as below. (See Figure below and Photo1)
- Zone 1 (Elevation 570m – 535m)：old fallow land where the villagers used to practice shifting cultivation and the land is currently used for corn production.
- Zone2 (Elevation 535m – 525m) paddy field converted from slope land after seven year-long efforts. However, due to the limited water resource for paddy cultivation, some villagers are trying to grow corn instead of rice.
- Zone 3 (Elevation 525m – 520m)： This is the housing area. Before 2010, the villagers raise cattle, pig and chicken near their house to support their food security and cash income. According to the field visit, the result of encouraging development village for public health, the village has changed their policy for animal raising. The cattle were regulated to raise only in their arranged field and was not allowed to raise in the village area. Thus, only poultry and pig were still bred in the village area.
- Zone 4：river and river banks situated 520m high above the sea level, or the lowest level in the village.
- Zone 5: paddy at elevation as low as the residential area on the opposite shore. The area is used for vegetable production and cattle grazing in dry season.
3. Project activity – NVS
Items of the project activities were 1) Introduction of NVS (contour cropping), 2) Vaccination, 3) Waterwheel manufacturing for irrigation in dry season, 4) Silage making and use. This report describes NVS activity.
3-1 Pre-project situations
- Changes in land use caused by newly-commenced corn cultivation
Until recently, the villagers conducted shifting agriculture using the forest vegetation in the villages’ slope land spreads from National Route-7 along the river. However, corn fields have been rapidly expanding there through deforestation since 2008, as confirmed by aerial photographs.
The rapid expansion in corn cultivation was triggered by contract farming with foreign agribusinesses. But underlying forces behind the intensification of the land use change must have been the Laos government’s development policy that aimed at combining dispersed settlements for intensive governance and property redistribution (land reform), which changed the villagers’ life styles, on top of s the residents’ willingness to earn cash. The villagers’ main source of cash income has changed to corn cultivation from rice, while rice production of 4 tons per 1ha is now consumed domestically.
- Reduced corn harvest caused by topsoil erosion and soil fertility loss
Don Kham village stripped the forest for corn production and the village’s total corn production for 2008 was estimated to be 1,134 tons. However, due to the land use conversion to corn production after deforestation, the top soil which had been protected by forest and understory vegetation started to be eroded by cracks in dry season and heavy rainfall in rainy season. The estimate of the village’s total corn production for 2010 dropped to 630 tons . The yield decline may be due to soil fertility loss caused by topsoil erosion.
The recent rapid land use change to corn production in Don Kham hinders the land use within the site carrying capacity/natural resilience required for sustainable agriculture, accelerating topsoil erosion and fertility loss, which in turn leading to reduced corn production. Such land use change has had significantly impacted on native ecosystem, leaving no hope for reforestation and recovery of damaged ecosystem by natural resilience. The environmental capacity intrinsic to the forest in slope appeared to have been deteriorating every year.
3-2 The Introduction of NVS (contour cropping)
A workshop on NVS was held and many farmers wanted to participate in the NVS activity. Areas vulnerable to topsoil erosion were provisionally selected and 15 farming households in the areas were provided with seeds to introduce NVS. Although the seeds were supposed to be sowed either simultaneously with corn planting or before corn started to grow, corn had been already planted when the project started. So this time, the seeds were planted empirically in limited areas only to show the villagers the role of NVS in controlling soil erosion. Four kinds of seeds were selected tentatively, – i) Paspalum Atratum, ii) Brachiaria Ruziziensis, iii) Stylosanthes Guianensis CIAT 184 and iv) Glycine max -. The analysis of the respective grasses’ effectiveness in controlling soil erosion, three species, i.e. i) to iii）, were eventually adopted for installing NVS
Photo 2 below shows two comparative conditions of contour farming taken at the time of mid-term monitoring and the evaluation surveys. At the mid-term monitoring, corn had been already harvested and cattle were put to grazing in cultivated lands, and they had eaten the NVS grasses close to the soil surface.
3-3 Project performance
- Expansion of NVS within the village to prevent the carrying capacity from lowering
At the moment, NVS has not been established in such large scale as to cover the whole corn cultivation lands where terrible top soil erosion takes place, and topsoil erosion control and recovery/maintenance of soil fertility have not been achieved. Since the villagers continue to produce corn without shifting to sustainable agriculture, the evaluation team thinks that the environmental capacity intrinsic to the forest continues to deteriorate.
On the other hand, the villagers are well aware of the NVS’s erosion control effects in the test site and are highly interested in adopting it in wider areas as a measure to control soil erosion. The evaluation team has confirmed their efforts in examining methods to collect seeds that will be used to expand contour lines. These factors lead us to believe that in future, the wider adoption of NVS, which is excellent in controlling topsoil erosion and maintaining/recovering fertility, can prevent the site carrying capacity from further deterioration.
Table 1 Evaluation on project performance（Present・Outlook）
Evaluation on present situation
|Increase in carrying capacity through the application of NVS and maintenance/recovery of soil fertility||・Confirmed the villagers’ appreciation of NVS as a means to control topsoil erosion and their intentions for continued application of NVS
・Currently shifting to sustainable agriculture.
・the carrying capacity of the site ecosystem continues lowering.
|・There are possibilities for the prevention and the subsequent increase of decreasing carrying capacity by the application of NVS in larger areas in the village, and fertility maintenance/recovery.|
3-4 Identification of incentive deterrent factors
Cash income from corn production is, despite its decreasing trend, attractive for the villagers who did not have a means to earn a sizable amount of cash so far. However, the villagers are growing concerned with the decreasing corn yield and the subsequent decline in income, and accordingly, the evaluation team believes that there are increased needs for securing a sustainable and stable means of livelihood. In the pre-project period, the villagers conducted dry season vegetable cultivation in a small scale mainly for domestic consumption and, as such, it did not generate much cash income. Therefore, the evaluation team presumes that the villagers only had a low awareness of the probability of cash crop production in dry season to supplement the cash income from corn production. The villagers’ heightened post-project expectations for such cash crop production is largely because the workshop provided greater insights into a very real possibility of cash crop production.
Assuming that securing a means of livelihood is the maximum incentive for the villagers, a shift to new agricultural production system incorporating cash crop production in dry season may accelerated based on economic effects rather than sustainability or stability. However, in doing so, the villagers must ensure through trial and error that they benefit from the ecosystem services within the site environmental capacity.
3-5 Sustainability and impact
As the decreasing trend of corn harvest heightens the needs for alternative source of stable income, the villagers are interested in NVS and cash crop cultivation. If they prioritize securing their livelihood, it is highly probable that “the use of natural resources within carrying capacity/natural resilience” will be hindered. Therefore, it is imperative first and foremost that the villagers: 1) fully understand that for Don Kham village that depends on the ecosystem services, securing a stable income and livelihood means the recovery, maintenance and reinforcement of the site carrying capacity/natural resilience and the maximization of the ecosystem services that they can get, and 2) reconstruct a framework to secure a sustainable livelihood to stabilize their living
Based on the villagers’ voluntary actions that the evaluation team observed and the project implementation agency’s views, here discusses outlooks for sustainability regarding the use of natural resources within the carrying capacity and natural resilience.
- Maintenance/recovery of soil fertility that allows sustainable agriculture
As exemplified by the villagers’ deepened understanding of a link between the maintenance of carrying capacity/natural resilience and sustainable agriculture, the test introduction of NVS and the commencement of cash crop production in dry season, practical efforts have been made by the villagers towards sustainable agriculture. Precedent-based advice to make it easier for them to understand a mutual relation between agricultural production methods and the subsequent impacts on environment may help the villagers to continue their efforts towards sustainable agriculture.
- Proper use of water resources（to maintain balance between demand and supply）
A rule has been set for the use of irrigation water between Don Kham and other villages situated on the upper stream and they have a common water management system. The framework and awareness for the management like this share a common principle with the concept of “the use of natural resources within carrying capacity/natural resilience.” The evaluation team believes that proper use of water resources may be easily acceptable and maintainable for the villagers.
- Recovery and maintenance of the site ecosystem
The original ecosystem in Don Kham village has been significantly damaged by the deforestation and the subsequent corn cultivation. However, since actions for recovery and maintenance of the site ecosystem have not contributed to villagers’ livelihood yet, they do not recognize to take voluntary actions for ecosystem. Through their own experience, the villagers have a grasp of the cause and effect to a certain extent that deforestation that brought about a drastic change of the ecosystem caused topsoil erosion and reduced soil fertility, which in turn reduced the corn harvest (i.e. degraded ecosystem services). Nevertheless, the evaluation team presumes that they only have a limited awareness of the value of the ecosystem services from which they have benefited. Therefore, heightened awareness of the values of ecosystem services and their prudent utilization will probably lead to actions that help recover and maintain the ecosystem, if not a full recovery.
4. Recommendations and lessons to be learnt
During the project implementation, OECC has provide advises to follow the concept of SATOYAMA Initiative and dispatched a research team to assess the project’s performance and outcomes to identify lessons learnt in practical basis.
4-1 Use of natural resources within the carrying capacity and natural resilience
From the perspective of the use of natural resources within the carrying capacity and resilience, the evaluation team thinks that the project has reinforced the potential sustainability. In order to secure or develop it, the following measures need to be taken.
- Establish agricultural production system within the carrying capacity and resilience by understanding the cause and effects of agricultural production methods and the subsequent impacts on environment and putting it into practice
- Use the natural resources properly within the carrying capacity and resilience by jointly managing water resources with the surrounding villages and further apply the villagers awareness of reform on wider areas
- Facilitate the use of the ecosystem services within the carrying capacity and resilience by deepening knowledge and recognition of the values of the ecosystem services and their wise use, and recover and maintain the traditional ecosystem to reinforce the carrying capacity and resilience.
In the region, the evaluation team has confirmed that the topsoil erosion due to the deforestation and the corn cultivation are the issues that need addressing. Since efforts by the Don Kham villagers have attracted attentions from the surrounding villages, the approach taken in this project should be systematized and applied as a model case to the surrounding villages that also face similar issues. The guidelines of each activity are as follows:
- Selection of NVS grass species/seed management, prevention of seed dispersal by cattle
The seeds urgently introduced in the project are foreign species and have strong reproductive power, thus requiring a human control over seed management. In order to establish a framework to control seed bearing and seed dispersal by feeding the NVS grasses to cattle, discussion should be made as to the use of NVS for cattle feed (the use of NVS grasses for silage where necessary) and seed bearing control among farmers, especially those who raise cattle and those who are willing to expand the NVS.
- Shift to sustainable agricultural production system （Shift to value-added vegetable cultivation）
- – Phase in agroforestry with a variety of value added cash crops, considering the fluctuations of market prices, with two targets： to secure lasting soil conservation of the slope that used to be a forest and stable income. In order to materialize them, technological guidance on agroforestry is required, and the production of NTFP (non-timber forestry products) should be also examined.
- – Secure stable and sustainable source of income that is not susceptible to climate or market prices by diversifying the kinds of cash crops including fruits. The villagers will need to receive technical guidance from administrative organs on the cultivation of cash crops that they have not grown before and learn cultivation skills for value-added cash crops suitable for the climate and soil of the locality.
Continue enhancing vaccination skills and acquire knowledge of how to feed cattle on silage, since increased stability of income from cattle as part of cash income will diversify and stabilize the source of income. In addition, the carrying capacity and resilience of the farmland should be increased by composting the cattle’s excreta and establishing cyclic-type agriculture.
4-2 Cyclic use of natural resources
1) In order to utilize the outcomes of the project in terms of the cyclic use of natural resources, the first consideration should be given to how to develop the NVS method which has been confirmed to control topsoil erosion and is the starting point of the circulatory flow. The most appropriate distance for plating NVS grasses in the slope must be confirmed through trial and error, while interests among related parties need to be adjusted beforehand regarding the use of the foliage resources produced by the NVS grasses with an estimate of the volume.
2) Establishing the cyclical use of natural resources requires a systematic and appropriate management framework unique to the village. Therefore, above-mentioned prior discussion should seek a reasonable sustainable framework.
4-3 Sustainable and multi-functional management of natural resources and ecosystem through diverse participation and collaboration
In this project, the villagers were not presented with activities to implement, but were required to select and implement activities on their own accord with technical assistance and information from the project implementation agency and administrative organs. The evaluation team presumes that the villagers’ proactive actions in future will include discussion and collaboration with other villages and will have occasions to make requests for technical and financial assistance to administrative organs on matters that Don Kham villages and the surrounding villages agree upon or cannot solve. Responding to these requests, the administrative organs should provide a wide range of options and give an opportunity for the villagers to decide policies, considering the other villages’ and Laos’s situations as well as the surrounding countries’ situations in a flexible manner and avoiding top-down approach only with a single option available.
 Based on “Project Plan for PLA in Don Kham Village” by the project implementation agency
 The government integrated dispersed villages into villages where infrastructure such as roads and small scale water-supply system had been prepared.
 The main industries in Don Kham are corn and rice cultivation, vegetables cultivation such as red pepper and garlic, cattle raising and weaving. Corn cultivation, in particular, is a valuable source of cash income (profit of LAK2,950thou per 1ha) for the villagers compared to rice. On the other hand, cash income from cattle is supplementary one for ceremonial occasions due to high prevalence of cattle caused by unestablished vaccination skills.
 Calculated by the average yield (9 tons/ha in 2008 and 5 tons/ha in 2010) multiplied by acreage of corn cultivation within the village
 According to the village rule, the farmers may not put their farm animals out to grass freely in rainy season, but in dry season, they may do so in grazing land including corn fields.