Lao PDR-IRRI collaboration began in the late 1960s and the first memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Lao PDR and IRRI was signed in 1987. Rice production is an important livelihood for Lao PDR, whose rice sector is rapidly transforming from pure subsistence to more commercial production. More and more rice farmers are selling the rice they produce.
Lao PDR-IRRI collaboration began in the late 1960s and continued in the 1970s with testing of improved rice breeding material from IRRI’s rice breeding and selection work in Lao PDR. In 1973, systematic multilocation yield trials took place followed by the multiplication and dissemination of several IRRI lines and varieties to farmers.
The first memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Lao PDR and IRRI was signed in 1987. Heightened collaborative work began when the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supported the Lao PDR-IRRI Research and Training Project from 1990 to 2007. This project aimed to improve and strengthen rice research capacity within the country and included research support, development, and training. An offshoot of the project was the development of a national rice research network, which, by the end of 1995, included all provinces of the country.
IRRI’s work in Lao PDR is supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), SDC, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Government of Japan, and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
On 12 January 2007, Dr. Sitaheng Rasphone, Lao PDR Minister for Agriculture and Forestry, and Dr. Robert Zeigler, IRRI director general, signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a regional hub in Lao PDR and as a result, the IRRI-Greater Mekong Subregion office in Lao PDR was formally opened. The office has since become the IRRI-Lao PDR office.
A policy study at the request of the government called the Lao People’s Democratic Republic Rice Policy Study, was released in 2012. It was stated in the report that since the country has moved from rice deficit to sizable surplus, and rice shortages becomes more of a localized phenomenon, focus of food security shifts to addressing nutritional benefits. The reports acknowledged that improving nutritional outcomes will increasingly be dependent on policies that promote higher household incomes, education on and awareness of better uses of foodstuff. This report was a support to an evidence-based policy decisions regarding the rice sector. It has benefited from the collaboration between the World Bank,the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and IRRI. Also, in the same year, IRRI welcomed IRRI welcomed H.E. Thongsing Thammavong, prime minister of Lao PDR, in a visit he made to the institute’s headquarters while on trip to the Philippines.
In 1955, the Salakham Rice Research Station in the Hatsaiphong District of Vientiane Municipality, was the first research station established in Lao PDR focused on rice. The early rice variety improvement activities at the station focused mainly on collecting different types of rice, and introducing and evaluating promising new types of rice and recommending varieties for introduction from IRRI. Since then, IRRI’s work with Lao PDR has expanded. It also included a suite of work that is currently underway and some significant achievements.
Current research and development with Lao PDR
Helping farmers in uplands
Through the Consortium for Unfavorable Rice Environments (CURE), IRRI is helping farmers in Lao PDR’s northern mountain region upgrade their agricultural practices and find varieties that suit their environment, as well as minimize environmental impacts on this fragile environment.
Helping farmers in irrigated areas
As part of the Irrigated Rice Research Consortium (IRRC), IRRI is helping farmers in irrigated areas adopt beneficial postproduction processing and water management technologies.
Helping farmers in southern Lao PDR
For farmers in rainfed regions in southern Lao PDR, IRRI is developing improved soil, nutrient, water, and crop management technologies to improve the livelihoods of rural people.
Breeding better rice varieties
IRRI is developing varieties with beneficial traits, such as drought tolerance, that are important for Lao PDR farmers and that suit different growing regions and conditions.
Coping with climate change
IRRI is collaborating with Lao PDR researchers to test seasonal weather forecasting, adapt crop management systems, and produce decision support systems. These information resources and tools will help farmers cope with climate change.
Better grain quality and value
Under the Grain Quality Improvement Network, IRRI is enhancing the aroma of Lao PDR-grown rice to help improve its quality, value, and export appeal.
IRRI is helping to further develop the Lao PDR Rice Knowledge Bank – an online repository of effective and practical best management practices for rice production.
Conserved Lao PDR’s rice genetic diversity
Lao PDR has deposited more than 15,000 types of rice in IRRI’s International Rice Genebank, making the country the second largest contributor. In turn, IRRI has dispatched 750 rice samples to Lao PDR for breeding and other research, and restored more than 11,000.
Improved rice production
Total rice production in Lao PDR increased from 1.5 million tons in 1990 to more than 2 million tons in 1999, at which time the country achieved rice self-sufficiency and while the SDC-supported Lao PDR-IRRI project was underway. In 2012 and 2013, rice production exceeds 3 million tons.
Modern rice varieties adopted
By 2004, modern rice varieties had been adopted in Lao PDR by 80% of the farming households and on 69% of the land planted to rice. Rice varieties developed with IRRI accounted for 51% of the planted modern varieties and included TDK1 and 5, and PNG 1 and 2. A 2008 study showed that 87% and 67% of farmers, inside and outside, respectively, of the major rice-growing plains of Lao PDR grew improved glutinous rice varieties.
Improved crop management practices
Researchers developed and adapted a 7-step best management practice manual and poster for rainfed lowland rice, which covers variety selection, good seed production, land preparation, crop and field management, harvesting, and storage.
IRRI has contributed to Lao PDR’s national rice research system, having hosted more than 60 Lao PDR scholars, and more than 190 trainees from Lao PDR in short courses.
Postproduction training completed
In 2004, three participants from Lao took part in a three-week postproduction training at IRRI, Philippines. This was followed up by a two-day hands-on postharvest training at National Agricultural Research Center (NARC) combined with one-day of e-learning.
Lao-IRRI-Rice Research and Training Project (LIRRTP)
The 15-year project, funded by the SDC and established in 1990, provided higher-degree training, short courses, on-the-job training, and participation in international conferences/seminars. The core group of trained staff now provides scientific and management leadership in the agricultural research system of the country. Lao PDR is now a key site for rice research in uplands under IRRI’s CURE. The project helped the government of Lao PDR achieve sustainable rice self-sufficiency.
Impact assessment clearly showed that the Lao-IRRI Project made a substantial contribution in establishing a fully functional rice research system in Lao PDR, which included the development of a network of 13 research stations and a well-trained cadre of research scientists and managers. This book can be downloaded for free.
Lao PDR has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity of rice in the world, and it appears to be the center of biodiversity for glutinous rice. Much of this rice is conserved in IRRI‘s International Rice Genebank.
Rice production in the country is subsistence-oriented. It is produced mainly by small farm households that have an average farm size of less than two hectares. Although rice production is the single most important economic activity, accounting for 39% of agricultural gross domestic product, very little rice is currently marketed.
Almost 90% of the rice area in the Lao is rainfed. Rainfed rice may be grown in lowland or in uplands. Rainfed rice in the lowlands dominates rice cultivation in the country. In 2004, about 75% of the area cultivated (576,000 ha) and 78% of the production (about 2 million t) originated from this ecosystem. Upland rice accounts for over 15% of the total rice area. Almost 50% of the rice grown in the Northern Region originates from the rainfed upland rice ecosystem (of which over 23% is cultivated under shifting cultivation). Luangprabang (17,000 ha) and Oudomxay (11,000 ha) are the main provinces in the Northern Region where rice is grown under shifting cultivation systems.
Harvested area of rice in 2008 was 781,240 hectares which produced a total of 2,710,050 tons of rough rice. Mean productivity of rice for Lao was 3.47 tons/hectare (World Rice Statistics, FAO, 2008). Lao people consume 171 kilograms per capita of milled rice per annum, which constitutes almost 70% of their calorie and protein intake.
- Lao Prime Minister Visits IRRI, 11 May 2012
- Lao Recipe for Steamed Sticky Rice (Kao Nieow) with Grilled Eggplant Dip (Leow Mak Kena)
- Laos: Celebrating the Land, Part 1
You may also view IRRI's YouTube playlist about Lao PDR.
Media release and news items
- IRRI strengthens partnership with Lao PDR to develop the country's agriculture sector
- “Super rice” to reach more poor farmers in Asia and Africa