Asian people looking at corn
Farmers inspect “little chicken rice” a local variety in upland Laos that only grows well at high altitudes and thus fetches a higher price.

Agro-biodiversity in Laos

Biodiversity-rich farming practices improve livelihoods and ecosystems for over 100,000 farmers across 700,000 hectares in Laos

Managed by NIRAS, The Agro-Biodiversity Initiative (TABI) in northern Laos has improved rural livelihoods alongside preserving the biodiversity of natural resources for sustainable growth. TABI’s landscape planning methods are participatory in nature, meaning they give responsibility and ownership to local communities to ensure biodiversity-rich practices continue in the long run.

Since the advent of agriculture, the abundance of diverse life has provided the raw material for feeding, clothing and sustaining human societies. Yet at this time we face the prospect of agricultural landscapes that are biodiversity-poor due to habitat destruction, overexploitation and climate change.

Agro-biodiversity (ABD) refers to the variety of life found in ecosystems as the result of both natural selection and selection by humans over millennia of farming, hunting and fishing. ABD is of increasing international concern as irresponsible land use has damaged once biodiversity-rich areas, threating both local habitats as well as the livelihood base of millions of rural families.

In response, since 2009 TABI has implemented ABD-positive landscape planning measures in northern Laos, piloting over 100 projects that have equipped rural communities with biodiverse-rich farming methods that are simultaneously high-yielding and supportive of the persistence of wild indigenous species.

Relying on local knowledge

In Laos over 80 percent of people live in rural areas and are highly dependent on the local environment for their livelihood. As human activity has shaped and conserved biodiversity, TABI has recognized the value of local traditions by incorporating them into its repertoire of ABD-rich methods that farmers use to live off the land.

As a result, Laos has seen an increased demand in organic wild honey, indigenous rice varieties and native fruits like bananas and oranges. Furthermore, the development of fish conservation zones has resulted in increased populations and higher incomes from fisheries.

Ideal for upland region

An excellent case study in landscape planning comes from the farmers of the upland region of Laos, where TABI has supported traditional rotational methods of cultivating the land in accord with its mountainous landscape. Rather than intensive monocropping , here farmers cultivate a multifunctional landscape that offers a variety of products for the market.

Diversification in this way has improved livelihood security (instead of relying on the success of one product) and, moreover, has resulted in improved land management, e.g. fewer forest fires as well as increased cooperation and productivity among labourers.

TABI has shown that for many farmers agrobiodiversity is a valuable asset and the way to a more secure, prosperous life.