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Thu, 1 Jan 2015

JCU Asian initiative tackles poverty

JCU researchers are helping to address poverty in a land-locked Asian nation through improved agricultural systems.

First published 10 December 2012

James Cook University researchers are helping to address poverty in a land-locked Asian nation through improved agricultural systems.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is a relatively under-developed nation located between Vietnam, Thailand, China and Cambodia.

Professor Peter Case, from JCU’s School of Business, will lead the research project Enhancing District Delivery and Management of Agricultural Extension in Laos, after receiving an Australian Government grant of almost $1 million.

Professor Case said the Laotian Government had recently set out a plan to address its Millennium Development Goals for medium-term poverty reduction and longer-term poverty eradication.

“Agriculture in Lao PDR currently accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the GDP,” he said. “And it still dominates livelihoods, with 80 per cent of Lao people relying on agriculture, the majority working on small semi-subsistence farms.”

Professor Case, an expert in the field of management systems and organisation development, will lead the five-member research team from JCU’s School of Business to partner with professionals from the Laos Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

He said together, they would develop management systems which aimed to transform the country’s agriculture extension services.

Professor Case said the innovative aspect of the JCU project was its plan to take knowledge and skills that had been acquired through past projects and focus on enabling the District level extension offices to identify which successful agricultural production could be ‘scaled-out’ to other suitable areas, and how they could manage this themselves.

“Agriculture extension services historically have been concerned with offering technical advice to farmers on how to improve such things as crop production and livestock management,” he said.

“Often this has meant offering farmers ‘improved practices’ that might include new seed varieties that have a higher yield, or better disease resistance, or better ways to plough and plant crops, or even take up new crops that markets want.”

Professor Case said that in the past, Laos had relied heavily on projects funded by overseas donors to mobilise agriculture extension.

“This, however, was limited to the timeframe of a given ‘project’, and once that ended, so did the extension. Furthermore, most of these projects took care of management of extension delivery, leaving a gap in capacity for the national extension network.”

“Our project is more a matter of improving management of existing services and sharing best practices than introducing new techniques,” he said.

The project will work in four pilot districts to develop guidelines on the use of the new extension interventions (technical knowledge, farmer organisation development; linking farmers to markets) and ‘extension management’ tools.

“This should ensure they can independently deliver effective extension. In the process, the districts should demonstrate the contribution of extension to the economy and improved livelihoods, and so gain greater commitment for funding internally.

“All of this is aimed at improving incomes for smallholder farmers which, in turn, will help with reduce malnutrition in the poorest of areas, increase food security and also provide other social benefits such as enabling farmers to send their children to school.”

Professor Case said the four-year project, which will run from January 2013 to January 2017, would initiate new methods and systems in pilot districts.

“But if it is successful, it will scale-out activities to many other regions with a view to achieving a nationwide impact. It is estimated that the economic impact alone will be about $5 million over the lifetime of the project.”

The project is funded from a competitive award from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

For interviews, Professor Case can be contacted on: 0427 156 050

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175