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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Final workshop report: SADU Laos

After sharing insights from market access work in Laos both in the form of text and video as well as inputs from similar work from Vietnam, we are happy share the final version of the workshop report from the final SADU event held the 5th and 6th of July in Vientiane. The final report can be accessed here.

As an external observer who does not participate regularly with market access activities in Lao PDR, there are several reflections that are worth sharing from this work. These include, in no particular order, the following:

  • When the SADU work began in Laos in 2004, the concept of markets and the use of markets as a tool for rural development was a significant departure from previous experiences in the country. Nine years later, many of the participants at the workshop show a greater understanding of the potential of this approach and are proposing innovate mechanisms to amplify this work in the country.
  • Despite these advances, significant differences exist between localities and their understanding and use of markets. Of more concern is the gap between provincial policies — which are often moving in a supportive direction — and national level policies that do not necessarily follow the same logic.
  • One of the indirect outcomes of SADU is the establishment of a public-sector think tank focused on reviewing policies and proposing innovations that support small holder farmers. While it remains to be seen how effective this think tank will be vis a vi public policy, it marks a first attempt to critically assess the role that the Lao state can play in supporting market linkages.

After listening and learning from SADU participants it is clear that a substantial debate exists in Laos regarding what different actors expect the Lao agricultural sector to look like in the future. Some support the ‘professionalization’ of the agricultural sector via foreign direct investment with small holder farmers participating either as outgrowers in contract agriculture schemes or as salaried employees of larger farms while others support a process focused on interventions to strengthen smallholder capacities to play an active role as independent or organized economic actors. Clearly there are trade-offs between these approaches. CIAT and others welcome the opportunity to participate with evidence to deepen this debate with Lao decision-makers.

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