Editorial (Op-Ed) by Mr. Nasar Hayat – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Representative in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mr. Nasar Hayat.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, with active support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is spearheading an innovative initiative that envisions bringing together governmental, private, and international partners to build a green growth economic corridor along the Laos-China Railway.
The aim is to capitalize on opportunities to uplift previously inaccessible communities and boost the economic development of the region.
By reducing transport times and costs, the Laos-China Railway expands the access of Lao producers to regional and international markets.
But even more importantly, it provides significant opportunities to develop multiple sectors of the Lao economy and make sizeable progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.
To help Laos capitalize on the development opportunities along the Lao China railway, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has collaborated with the Government of Laos to design a multi-sectoral, multi-partner strategic initiative called the Hand-in-Hand Initiative.
Centered on the FAO mandate to strengthen food production, rural development, and agriculture, the initiative envisions the development of an economic corridor along the railway to enhance the capacity of previously isolated communities to effectively and sustainably take advantage of the emerging opportunities afforded by the railway.
Better connectivity along the Lao China Railway line will play a key role in changing the landscape for the Lao agriculture and forestry sector, boost livelihoods for farmers, expand the delivery of goods and services for consumers, and offer new investment opportunities for private sector investors.
A 2020 World Bank study, “From Landlocked to Land-Linked: Unlocking the Potential of The Lao-China Rail Connectivity”, has found that the railway is likely to reduce the transportation time and costs by an average of 30 percent to import or export commodities.
The railway is also expected to expand accessibility to tourist destinations and agricultural production areas, providing opportunities for local products and services to participate in global supply chains.
At the same time, expanded connectivity and access to international markets will bring significant risks and challenges by exposing Lao producers to a wider range of competitors. The Hand-in-Hand Initiative aims to minimize these risks by enhancing production, aligning agri-food systems to new market opportunities, and strengthening capacities of value chain actors (especially smallholder family farmers) to participate effectively in regional and international markets.
Additionally, efforts need to be made to develop and improve road access for previously remote areas to the railway, to strengthen logistics services, border administration, and trade facilitation. The ultimate goal of the initiative in Lao PDR is to contribute to eradicating poverty, hunger, and all forms of malnutrition and reduce inequalities without compromising the environment and sustainability in the use of natural resources while leveraging the potential of green and sustainable agri-food systems.
Under the guidance and with the active participation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lao PDR, FAO helped to develop a detailed roadmap for the initiative, centred on three broad pillars: promoting sustainable, commercial food and agroforestry systems; addressing structural poverty, hunger and malnutrition; and building a conducive enabling environment.
The roadmap also includes components of programming, outputs, and key investments along with estimated costs, potential partners, suggestions for implementation arrangements, and various other details of consideration by potential investors.
A wide range of government entities, local and international organizations have contributed their insights to this roadmap as well.
The initiative extends far beyond the traditional realm of FAO operations; in fact, Hand-in-Hand is envisioned as a call for support, partnership, and engagement from the target communities as well as the private sector, international agencies, and resource partners to boost the economic development of the region as well as generate impetus for the economic growth of the entire country.
Moreover, the Hand-in-Hand approach and framework are not blueprints but rather a flexible mechanism adaptable to emerging opportunities and partnerships, building synergies with relevant ongoing and planned initiatives.
Attracting investment from international partners and the private sector to develop the economic corridor will be key to achieving Lao PDR’s national and sector policies, its commitments toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and will ultimately contribute towards the country’s ongoing objective to graduate from Least Developed Country status.
FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative was launched globally by the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, in early 2020 as an evidence-based, country-led, and country-owned undertaking to accelerate the agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.
The initiative was first introduced to the Government of Lao PDR during Mr. QU’s visit to Laos in March 2020, and the Lao Government chose to implement the initiative for the development of an economic corridor along the Lao-China railway line.
Hand-in-Hand seeks to support nations such as the Lao PDR in their policy goals and to bring them closer to the SDG targets, particularly, reduction of extreme poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
To achieve these objectives, the initiative seeks to create partnerships with a broad range of governmental and non-governmental partnerships and reach out beyond traditional development paradigms.
As Lao farmers and policymakers embrace the opportunities and challenges in their efforts to transform the country’s food systems and achieve its sustainable development goals, FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative offers to help the Lao PDR leave no one behind.
The writer is Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Representative in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mr. Nasar Hayat.