SDC and Food Security
Prices for staple foods soared in early 2008, undermining food security and putting the poor at an even greater risk, and leading to food riots in over forty countries. SDC is contributing to improving the conditions of those worst hit through urgent measures and long-term programmes, at both bilateral and multilateral levels. SDC’s long-term programmes include the promotion of agriculture and agricultural research in developing countries and, in international trade negotiations, advocacy for the needs of developing countries. SDC is playing an active role in Swiss efforts to strengthen the cohesive response of the United Nations system and the international financial institutions to the current crisis. SDC investments in food security amount to CHF 100 million annually in bilateral and multilateral development cooperation. Through SDC’s new focus on food security as a Global Issue, additional funds will be made available in the future.
Food Security situation in the
The Mekong region (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand) is a rice basket of regional and global importance. Like in other parts of the world, food prices in the Mekong region have increased tremendously, thus putting an even higher burden on the consumption expenses of an average household. Rice is of particular importance as it accounts for at least one-third of the daily calorific intake. Food shortages and malnutrition especially occur in remote and poor areas which are often home to ethnic minorities. For example, up to two-thirds of rural households in Laos are at high risk of becoming food insecure, and chronic malnutrition among children below five years is widespread. There is a high risk that people who barely escaped the poverty trap before this crisis might slip back into it as safety-nets rarely exist. Additionally, indications show that the regional food reserves are declining. Some governments have started to limit or even ban rice exports fully or at least on a temporary basis in order to secure national supply. Despite good recent harvests, rice prices are expected to remain at high levels because demand is still strong. On one hand, high food prices can be seen as an opportunity for small-holder producers with regard to higher returns on investments and market access. But on the other hand, food production costs are rising due to more expensive inputs.
SDC's response in the Mekong
SDC follows several paths to contribute to food security in the Mekong region: Various projects contribute to food security by increasing agricultural and livestock production and productivity. Thereby, they connect agricultural research, implementation of adapted and resource-efficient production technologies, and locally adapted extension systems to make sure that innovations reach poor small-holder farmers. The Laos Extension for Agriculture Project (LEAP) and the Lao-IRRI project (refer to boxes) are examples of successes that have been achieved thanks to improved knowledge, training and capacity building. In project areas, farmers have appointed their own ‘Village Extension Workers’ who share their knowledge and experience among villagers and villages. Projects with a focus on rural livelihood, natural resource management and income generation have an impact on food security as well. A productive natural base is essential for good harvests, and income gained from surplus production, farm-related or non-farm activities, is crucial to overcoming food shortages. The Small-scale Agro-enterprise Development in the Uplands of Lao PDR and Vietnam (SADU) is an example that develops sustainable agroenterprise initiatives for upland rural communities. Income and employment opportunities are generated through diversification and the value added to the local natural resources.
SDC has been working closely with regionally important actors such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVRDC). Through these partnerships, new rice and vegetables varieties have been developed with higher yield. These new varieties are more pest and disease resistant, and more drought tolerant. Introducing new farming technologies helps to save time and therefore to improve labour productivity. SDC has been funding the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC), a regional partnership between IRRI and 11 ricegrowing countries (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines), since 1997. This partnership has helped to identify and address problems of each country’s irrigated rice production by developing and testing rice-growing technologies and crop-management approaches in farmers’ fields. Waterand time-saving practices such as alternate wetting and drying or direct seeding of rice are concrete results that are being adopted by thousands of farmers. Successes in post-harvest technologies, site-specific nutrient management and ecological rodent pest management have led to new national policies and recommendations affecting millions of farmers across Asia. There is a need for continued effort to implement and apply research results to the benefit of smallholder farmers. SDC, together with its partners, aims to replicate and up-scale best practices across the region – while keeping in mind that locally adapted solutions have the best potential for local adoption.
- Improving the production of Lao farmers
Laos is a rural and very mountainous country, where farmers lack easy access to new cultivation methods, tools and raw components (seeds, fertilizers). Improving agricultural production and introducing new technologies are key for poverty reduction in the rural areas. The Laos Extension for Agriculture Project (LEAP) supports capacity building of the national extension system of the Ministry of Agriculture. It introduces decentralized, participatory, pluralistic, and sustainable agriculture extension methods that reach male and female farmers equally. The first impact of this new approach has shown that participating farmers have increased rice production by 46%, pig production by 143% and chicken production by 262%. Technical assistance in this partnership is provided by Helvetas.
- The «Plan Wahlen» of Laos: a partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to increase the production of rice
In 1939, Switzerland had a population of 4.3 million and, with the outbreak of World War II, started a huge programme to ensure food security. Public parks were turned into agricultural land which resulted in a yield equivalent to 660,000 tons of cereals per year. I n 1990, Laos had a population of 4.3 million and did not produce enough rice to feed its inhabitants. Through the partnership with Switzerland (via the International Rice Research Institute), annual rice production has increased by 650,000 tons – or almost 70%! This increase is very similar to the achievements of Switzerland’s “Plan Wahlen”! As the population of Laos is likely to double by 2020, so too should the production of rice in order to meet the national demand – a goal that can be reached with this efficient partnership. I n addition, SDC has supported a bio-diversity programme in order to preserve the genetic diversity of rice in Laos. Over 8000 traditional Lao rice varieties are preserved, and these varieties are an important genetic stock for developing modern high-yielding varieties and adapting them to new ecological situations world wide.
- Vegetables to combat malnutrition and to raise income
SDC and the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVRDC) have worked together to improve nutritional status and increase the income of farmer households in countries like Cambodia, China, Lao PDR and Vietnam. The partnership has focussed on improving research as well as extension capacities – a crucial start to ultimately reaching farmers and to promoting improved production techniques. Some major results: Farmers who adopted vegetable techniques promoted by AVRDC improved their incomes (e.g. by more than 50% in Northern Vietnam), essentially through increased yields, lesser input in investments (e.g. through biological weed and pest control), and better prices due to better quality and an enhanced range of vegetables. Intensification of vegetable cultivation also contributed to increased household consumption which resulted in better health and reduction of expenses on food. Thus savings could then be diverted to debt reduction, children’s education, and to other household needs. These encouraging results have consequently led to an increased number of vegetablegrowing farmers in the project areas of the participating countries.