OPENING REMARKS: UNCTAD National Virtual Workshop: Fostering Integration of the Lao PDR Downstream Value Chain of Maize into Regional Value Chains
Ms. Sara Sekkenes, UN Resident Coordinator
Tuesday 13th October (14:00-17:45)
Lane Xang Meeting Room, UN House and Online Via Zoom
Dear Mr. Xaysomphet Norasingh, Director General of Production and Trade Promotion, Ministry of Industry and Commerce
Dear Mr. Rodrigo Cárcamo, Project Coordinator, UNCTAD
Esteemed Government partners,
Dear Colleagues, Ladies & Gentlemen,
- It is a pleasure to welcome you all- physically and virtually- to the UN House here in Vientiane.
- In particular, I would like to welcome those that have travelled from the provinces to be with us today. There is always a risk that those of us based in the city can become disconnected over time from the realities that most Laotians face, so I am especially pleased that you have been able to take part in this discussion, and we are counting on you to share your perspectives.
- We are all painfully aware of the overwhelming onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it continues to reverberate around the world, has made this a year unlike any we have experienced.
- Globally, the pandemic has pushed an estimated 115 million people into poverty. Here in Laos, estimates suggest 200-300 thousand people may fall into poverty.
- And it behoves us to emphasize the seriousness of this: poverty is defined relative to the standards of living in a society at a specific time. The most commonly used way to measure poverty is based on incomes. People live in poverty when they are denied an income sufficient for their material needs and when these circumstances exclude them from taking part in activities which are an accepted part of daily life in that society.
- But in this crisis, we are also reminded how important sustainable development progress is. As is building systems and economies that are inclusive and sustainable so that communities and individuals can build their resilience to cope with the shocks that we can expect to occur with ever-greater frequency ahead.
- So, in that spirit, I am especially pleased to see all of us finding new ways of working together. We may not be able to travel in the ways that we are used to, but this is a great example of how we can all keep working, nevertheless.
- Over the past months, many of us have been supporting the development of the 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan, under the leadership of the Ministry of Planning and Investment.
- This will set the framework for national development for the next five years, and has involved careful thinking about where we are, what challenges lay ahead, and what the main drivers of progress can be to ensure faster, more inclusive, and more sustainable development.
- Through discussions, it has consistently been made clear how important agriculture is, and will continue to be, as a source of nutrition, livelihoods, and economic opportunities for the people of Lao PDR.
- Two-thirds of the national population, and almost 90% of the poor live in rural areas. The agricultural sector accounts for 16 per cent of the economy, and provides employment to 62 per cent of the workforce.
- So, the many ways in which we are able to support more and better livelihoods in the agricultural sectoral really matters. Finding ways to develop and improve the prospects of those engaged in agriculture holds the promise of delivering inclusive development in a way that few other sectors can match.
- At the same time, the discussions in the preparation for the 9th NSEDP have also highlighted the opportunities Lao PDR can realize through closer regional economic integration.
- We are surrounded by larger, and for the most part wealthier, trading partners that offer enormous economic opportunities. Historically, geography has made trade difficult. But with the transformative investments now being made in railways, bridges, and highways, we are moving ever closer to realising the national ambition of transitioning from being landlocked, to becoming land-linked.
- And in that context, the focus of discussion this afternoon will bring these two strands together- to help answer practical questions about what we need to do to realise the opportunities of regional integration in key agricultural value chains.
- These are the questions that we as policymakers and development partners must pose and find answers to.
- And in seeking these answers, we must look to the evidence, and learn from it, just as we are setting out to do today, sharing experience, learning what works and what doesn’t, and drawing some collective conclusions and recommendations on the next steps ahead.
- Thank you again for being here today. I look forward to learning together with you and wish you fruitful discussions for this afternoon.