MANILA, PHILIPPINES (25 January 2005) - ADB will help develop a sustainable agroforestry land-use system in northern Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) through a US$1.5 million grant approved from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, financed by the Government of Japan.

The Sustainable Agroforestry Systems for Livelihood Enhancement of the Rural Poor project will cover nine impoverished ethnic minority communities living in the mountainous northwestern Louang Namtha province, where traditional slash-and-burn shifting cultivation is still being practiced.

The target villages are located in the Nam Ha subcatchment straddling Viengphukha - one of the poorest districts in Lao PDR with a poverty incidence rate of 90.3% - and Namtha districts, with combined population of 3,250 villagers.

The grant will support the construction of on-farm infrastructure, including new irrigation systems for 30 hectares of paddy fields as well as improved irrigation systems for another 65 hectares, that will convert their farming method from shifting cultivation to intensive permanent land-use agricultural method known as sedentary agriculture.

"The project would significantly improve family farm productivity and pave the way for official land occupancy certification, and, therefore, secure land tenure," says Marla Huddleston, Senior Social Development and Resettlement Specialist.

By shifting to the sedentary agricultural method, the farmland requirement per family can be reduced to an average of 2.4 hectares. Further, the potential harvest from just 2.4-hectare land is considerably greater than from 10 hectares under shifting cultivation.

The shift will also enable the unused area to regenerate as productive forest, of which 3 hectares can be allocated to each family as community and village production forest.

"This agroforestry strategy, incorporating improved productivity under sendentarized agriculture and augmented by income from farm forestry, will lift farm family livelihood well above subsistence levels to about $1,900 per family per year," Ms. Huddleston adds.

The grant will also finance training of target communities in managing their landholdings and help local government agencies, in collaboration with community-based organizations and the private sector, better deliver essential agriculture- and forestry-related services.

Through community organizations, the project will enable farm families to participate in informed decision-making concerning their present and future livelihoods.

The target villages were selected because of their potential vulnerability to land grabbing and exploitation by traders following the upgrading of Lao National Route 3 that passes through their villages. The activities in this target area will eventually be scaled up in other districts along the Lao National Route 3 corridor.

The UN World Food Programme will contribute $226,588 toward the project, while the Lao PDR Government will allocate government staff resources valued at $20,000 equivalent. The targeted communities will contribute the labor component valued at $59,347 equivalent.

The Louang Namtha provincial government is the executing agency for the project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

A complementary grant of $850,000 from ADB's Poverty Reduction Cooperation Fund (PRF), financed by the Government of the United Kingdom, will develop these ethnic minority communities' capacities in health, nonformal education, gender and development, land-rights awareness, natural resource management, and product processing, and marketing.

The JFPR and PRF projects were prepared as complementary components supporting the Social Action Plan 2002 of ADB loan for the Greater Mekong subregion Northern Economic Corridor Project.

The JFPR was set up in 2000 with an initial contribution of Y10 billion (about US$90 million), followed by additional contributions of $155 million and a commitment of $50 million.

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