ROME: The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) concluded a joint visit to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) with a call for greater investment in nutrition.
FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, and WFP Executive Director, David Beasley, made the three-day visit, together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)’s Sub-regional Director, Thomas Rath, to raise awareness about the importance of integrated food systems to improve food and nutrition security, and to see first-hand the impacts of the three agencies’ collaborative programs.
“FAO is committed to working together with the IFAD, WFP and the Government of Lao PDR and its people to boost nutrition. The three agencies are already making a difference in farming families’ lives and livelihoods, and we strive to continue this progress to achieve Zero Hunger,” said Graziano da Silva.
“From this visit, I could feel the sense of optimism from people in the communities,” said Beasley. “In partnership with the Lao Government, the work WFP, FAO, and IFAD are doing together helps create a better future for schoolchildren, for farmers, and families throughout the country.”
Lao PDR has made good progress over the past twenty years in reducing poverty and hunger, but malnutrition remains an obstacle to the country’s aim of becoming a middle-income country.
Stunting affects around one-third of children aged under five, and rural areas are worst affected. Improving access to healthy, diversified diets is vital to improving nutrition.
During their visit, Graziano da Silva and Beasley met the Lao PDR Prime Minister, Thongloun Sisoulith, and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Agriculture.
The delegation also visited several sites in the country’s northern Oudomxay Province which is part of a large joint food security and nutrition program, Agriculture for Nutrition, that benefits around 400 villages in four northern provinces.
“This project is an excellent example of the three UN agencies building on one another’s strengths to work with governments, donors, and other partners to maximize our impacts on the ground towards improved food and nutrition security in rural areas,” said Rath.
The program is being implemented to help boost nutrition in rural areas, in a collaboration between the FAO, IFAD and WFP, and with the Government of Lao PDR and other partners.
Under the program, the FAO is working with farmers to increase their incomes from livestock so they can afford more-nutritious food for their families. This is alongside FAO’s work to encourage rice farmers to raise fish in their rice paddies to provide both extra income and a nutritious source of protein. FAO’s Farmer Field Schools also help family farmers increase productivity for better food and nutrition security.
The IFAD is managing a multi-million dollar fund to invest in areas identified under Strategic Investment Plans that support the country’s National Nutrition Strategy and is providing support to rural communities in developing nutritious crops and livestock that correspond to market demand. The IFAD is also working with rural women to improve family diets, especially in the first 1000 days following conception. Women are receiving support and education to help prevent adolescent pregnancies and to better participate in nutrition-sensitive agricultural activities.
The WFP’s activities under the program include supporting Farmer Nutrition Schools that train farming communities to produce and cook more nutritional foods, and household gardens to boost dietary diversity.
The delegation also visited the Ban Bor school in Xay District that is taking part in the nationwide school meals program that encourages healthier diets for children. Graziano da Silva and Beasley witnessed the handover of WFP’s school feeding program in more than 500 schools to the Government. Under the program, which the WFP started in 2002, nutritious meals are provided by the WFP to 140000 schoolchildren in 1450 schools to enhance learning and health. Communities are supported to establish and manage school vegetable gardens that ensure fresh, local produce is available for the school meals and also teach children about nutrition.