Lao PDR: Community-managed Irrigation Reduces Poverty and Raises Food Security for Women Farmers - 2012

More active participation by women in irrigation and food production reduces poverty and raises food security.

The ADB-financed Northern Community-Managed Irrigation Sector Project, implemented from 2004 to 2011, helped bring down absolute poverty from 64% in 2005 to 40% in 2009 in 11 remote, mountainous and poor districts in five Northern provinces of Lao PDR.

Food security in the project areas increased significantly through investments in community based irrigation schemes. Surveys conducted in 2009, two years prior to project completion, showed that farming families benefiting from 12 of the 33 irrigation schemes were completely self-sufficient in rice. In 10 other areas, the rice deficit had reduced to moderate levels (less than two months a year). Estimates suggest that full rice self-sufficiency was reached in the project areas by the time the project ended in February 2011.

Reduced poverty and improved food security were achieved by expanding the area under irrigated cultivation and disseminating information about higher-yielding varieties of rice through agricultural extension outreach to farming communities organized into water user associations. The project also introduced improved rice varieties through demonstration in both wet and dry seasons.

Giving women voice in planning and decision-making

Women were involved in all aspects of project planning and implementation from village consultations to establishment and participation in water user-user associations (WUAs) and farmer producer groups. The 33 subprojects covered a total of 53 villages and hamlets, comprising 5,620 households with a total population of 30,000, While women’s participation in consultation meetings was 30%-60% during the initial implementation period, by project end it had increase to 49%-65%. Women’s participation in project-related activities such as engineering surveys, construction labour, study tours and annual production evaluation meetings ranged between 24% and 41%.

Special emphasis was given to encouraging women farmers to participate actively through the community-based water user associations. WUAs were formed and registered in all 33 subprojects with more than 800 women members (35%) who played an active role in the WUA management committees, often serving as the treasurer and/or accountant. At least one woman from each village was also appointed as a community-level organizer. The District Lao Women’s Union (LWU) assisted with mobilizing and training women to be active participants.

Women also benefited from diversified farming pilot demonstrations that delivered training on farming techniques on household plots. By 2010, women comprised 41% of participants of the on-farm crop productivity improvement trials Women were similarly represented in activities related to the system of rice intensification.

In non-irrigated areas, poultry farming emerged as the top priority for income-generating opportunities. Across the 33 subprojects, 358 households formed poultry-raising groups and received extension support from the project. In 326 households women now raise chickens.

Given the importance of household water to women’s work burden and time allocation, water supply investments in 17 project villages’ substantially reduced women’s burden of collecting and storing water. As sign of the importance of water supply, women provided 34% of the labour for water system maintenance in these villages.

Dramatic changes in the lives of poor women

Women have been the major beneficiaries of the training and support for poultry as an income-earning activity, managing virtually all the schemes emerging from the project. Water supply investments in 17 project villages also benefited women, who are usually responsible for fetching water for the home. The water supply schemes substantially reduced this burden. In a sign of the importance of water supply, women provided 34% of the labor for water system maintenance in these villages.

Suggested improvements

The project has helped reduce poverty and increase food security in the project areas dramatically changing the lives of poor women. Community-managed irrigation schemes with women’s full involvement in management of the schemes have delivered rice sufficiency and less poverty in many areas. Women were also major beneficiaries of the training and extension support for poultry raising as an income-earning activity.