7th Lao Organic Agriculture Forum: Opening Remarks by Sara Sekkenes
28 November 2019
Your Excellency, Dr Lien THIKEO, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
Your Excellency Mr. Somchit INTHAMIT, Vice Minister of Industry and Commerce
Excellencies and Ambassadors,
Ladies & Gentlemen,
Good morning/ Sabaidee,
First of all, I would like to warmly welcome participants to this event. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for its ongoing support to Lao PDR, specifically in convening the Lao Organic Agriculture Forum since 2017 in cooperation with the national counterparts.
It is a pleasure to be here just a day after the completion of the annual Round Table Implementation meeting in Luangprabang, whereby all partners acknowledged good progress in terms of the integrated green and resilient growth model into national, provincial and district development plans as well as sectoral development strategies.
The Round Table Meeting also emphasized that promotion of agriculture commercialization, diversified services and sustainable trade expansion in agriculture products are key to reduce rural poverty, with linkages upstream to smallholder producers and downstream to domestic agribusiness. Investment in research and extension to underpin agricultural innovation could also be increased. This is vital as the majority of the Lao labour force are engaged in and dependent of the agricultural sector.
Lao Organic Agriculture Forum provides an excellent multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate information and experience sharing among stakeholders interested in organic agriculture development and exports in Lao PDR. The aim of the forum is to encourage public-private partnership and dialogue and it is open to all stakeholders including producer organizations, trader associations, environmental groups, research institutions, and consumer associations.
LOAF was initiated by UNCTAD under the UN Inter Agency Cluster on Trade and Productive Capacity project "Enhancing sustainable tourism, clean production and export capacity in Lao PDR".
Since 2017, UNCTAD's Project "Fostering green exports through Voluntary Sustainability Standards" has carried on with the organization of the Forum. This project aims to help developing countries to capitalize on growing green market opportunities and to build their capacity to use Voluntary Sustainability Standards as a tool to achieve win-win-win outcomes, i.e.:
Inclusive economic growth though fostering green exports
Production practices that are complementary to environmental protection
Business environment that is complementary to better social development
The objective of 7th Forum is to address the following:
The way forward of Lao organic agriculture: 2019 marks the midterm of the 10-year strategy. What we have achieved so far, the lessons learned over the first 5 years of the strategy, and what should be the national agenda for organic development in the coming years.
Increasing competitiveness of Lao organic agriculture: looking at how regional and international buyers’ value Lao organic exports, and what that can be done to improve their competitiveness
Achieving greater partnership on Lao organic agriculture: How can we best achieve synergies among various activities and initiatives in support of Lao organic agriculture?
With neighbouring countries holding large market shares in many products, as Lao PDR works towards enhancing agricultural production, significant opportunities exist in more unique approaches, creating a niche market of organic produce, for instance, of high-quality coffee, tea and rice.
Organic Agriculture is one of the few sub-sectors were Lao PDR has a comparative advantage in the region. The country is perceived as “green” and pesticide free by many others.
But several supporting efforts are needed. The growing use of pesticides in the agri sector more generally can easily change this perception and undermine the good reputation established.
Also, the organic agriculture sub-sector will have difficulties taking off unless producers can form functioning cooperatives (on the model of the AGPC – coffee cooperative system set by the French in Paksong for coffee producers – for example) allowing for needed investment in cold storage capacity and processing (mainly washing, packaging etc).
Under the ‘Brand Lao - for Better Livelihoods’ project, the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and UNDP are working together to establish a premium Lao brand, called ‘Heart of Laos’, to appeal to ethically-minded consumers that will help raise incomes for local producers and manufacturers at every stage of the value chain.
The success of the brand relies on guaranteeing high standards of production and the fair treatment of local communities, through an export marketing group structure with responsibility charters and roadmaps for export. This will help Lao PDR capitalise on its unique characteristics to offer quality where others only offer quantity.”
Studies show that potential for Lao organic agriculture products in the international market is very high. The challenges associated with production capacity and low capacity of individual producers can be tackled through cooperative setup.
A priority could be set towards organic agriculture in terms of working with a few high potential countries on market access through the rich experience of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
Against the backdrop of the 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan currently under development and the transformation of the economy as the country transitions from its status as Least Developed Country, it is important to pay attention to both opportunities and risks: for example, in the transformation of the labour intensive sectors, e.g. how to leapfrog the agriculture sector in a green and sustainable manner that would serve to sustain livelihoods, provide higher levels of food security and of income by moving up through the value chain.
But also, in prioritization and implementation of efforts targeting an increase of organic agriculture, it is also important to ensure that external risks, such as natural hazards caused by climate change, are taken into account.
Agriculture will remain important in ensuring a sustainable LDC graduation - one of the top priorities of Lao PDR. In order to avoid the middle-income trap, there is a need for a new generation of policies focusing on fostering productive capacitiesand modernize industry (growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises), export diversification and structural economic transformation. Here, Organic Agriculture can play a creative and important role.
The 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan needs to capture measures for establishing and implementing such policies.
The United Nations stand ready to continue supporting Lao PDR in its journey towards green growth, including through the expansion of organic agriculture to enable achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.