Think, Eat, Save in Lao PDR by Vichit Sayavongkhamdy

07 Jun 2013

image Photo: UNDP Lao PDR/Thongchanh Vilaychanh

When we talk about environment, natural resource management or sustainable development, people often think that it is something that does not really relate to them as individuals. The theme for the World Environment Day 2013 “Think, Eat, Save - Reduce your foodprint” directly links with our everyday lives and is easier to associate with from both the policy perspective and as something anyone can contribute to.

Before food gets to our tables, it has to go through various steps - from harvesting to the market and then finally to our tables. How can you be a smarter and more responsible consumer in order to use our natural resources in a more efficient manner?

  • Eat seasonally to avoid added preservatives. You will get fresher products and the grower will not have to apply chemicals to force agricultural products to grow when they are not in season.
  • Buying locally produced products is a smart way of using our natural resources. You will know the source of your food and that it is safe to eat.
  • In the Lao culture we say that it is “better to have more food than less” for any events. We may have to re-think this if we are to use our natural resources in a sustainable manner. Plan before you go food shopping and only buy what you need and can consume.

When the productivity of our agricultural land is going down, we see two simple solutions: Using chemicals or expanding the area for cultivation. However, there are other more environmentally-friendly solutions too. Using sustainable agricultural techniques such as rotating the land to grow different crops can lead to improved productivity.

Our research for a recent greenhouse gas inventory shows that in 2000 Laos changed from being a carbon absorbing country to being a carbon producing country due to changes in the way we now use land for economic development.

We often hear that Laos is a resource rich country. While this is true, nothing can be used forever. We want the next generations to also have a similar access to our natural resources; we don’t want to be talking to our children about forests or other natural resources as something we used to have.

UNDP has worked with the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) to evaluate different ways of using land, including preserving the forest for non-timber forest products as opposed to cutting the forest in favour of upland rice production, rubber plantations or corn fields. Our research found that the most sustainable way is to leave the forest as it is where people can have access to non-timber forest products.

While turning forest into rubber plantations can provide a good financial return, we need to use our natural resources in a way that maximizes the benefit for local communities (and particularly the rural poor who often rely on these resources for their livelihoods) and minimizes the impact on the environment. When our Government chooses responsible investors, we call them ‘Quality Investments’. A more systematic way of managing investments can lead to a better and more sustainable use of natural resources.

UNDP’s projects promote sustainability in the use of natural resources, such as the diversification of agriculture to improve resilience of the local communities as well as the promotion and protection of biodiversity in agriculture and ecosystems. The ultimate goal is to have sustainable agriculture and to use climate change resilient crops for increased food security.

UNDP also works closely with MPI in the annual Round Table Process, where our Government lists their development priorities for the year and donors coordinate their support to the Government. The topic for this year’s Round Table Meeting is “Food and Nutrition Security”, so it is a very hot topic for our Government to tackle.

Vichit Sayavongkhamdy is the Program Specialist for Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation at UNDP Lao PDR. He was recently interviewed by Lao National TV for their ‘Environmental special’ programme on the occasion of the World Environment Day 2013 and this article is a translated summary of his full interview.