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Improving smallholder livelihoods, and watershed and soil management through conservation agriculture in the Lao PDR

Lienhard P., Tran Quoc H., Khamxaykhay C., Sosomphou T., Tivet F., Lestrelin G., Panyasiri K., Séguy L.. 2006. In : 2nd International Conference on Sustainable Sloping Lands and Watershed Management (SSLWM 2006), 12-15 December 2006, Luang Prabang. s.l. : s.n., 17 p.. International Conference on Sustainable Sloping Lands and Watershed Management. 2, 2006-12-12/2006-12-15, Luang Prabang (Laos, République démocratique populaire).

Over the past fifteen years, farming systems have changed drastically in the Lao PDR, with swidden systems giving way to more modern agricultural technologies in many areas. In southern Xayabury, agricultural intensification is causing rotational cultivation systems and fallow periods to disappear. These are gradually being replaced by 'resource-mining' agriculture that has serious social and environmental costs, including increased soil erosion (leading to destruction of roads and paddy fields), loss of soil fertility, and chemical pollution of the environment. On elevated plains in the upper part of the Nam Ngum river basin (Xieng Khouang province), large areas of savannah grasslands are under-utilised by smallholders whose main farming systems are based on lowland paddy fields, livestock production with extensive grazing on savannah grasslands, and off-farm activities. Given this situation, the Lao National Agro-Ecology Programme (PRONAE) has implemented an iterative research-development approach based on conservation agriculture. The objectives are to find innovative systems that can revert the present 'resource-mining' practices in southern Xayabury to systems based on conservation agriculture, and to develop alternatives systems for the plains of Xieng Khouang province. Direct seeding mulch-based cropping systems with residue management were evaluated and validated by farmer groups in five villages in southern Xayabury over four seasons. Positive results (increased net income and labour productivity) are evident from these direct seeding systems, and with growing interest observed there is potential for widespread adoption. Results show that the level of dissemination of direct seeding mulch-based cropping systems differs greatly among the villages surveyed depending on their environmental and socio-economic conditions. On the elevated plains of Xieng Khouang province, the economic and technical viability of cattle fattening was analysed. Fattening on improved pastureland (using Brachiaria ruziziensis) during the rainy season appears very efficient, with high growth rates recorded. During trials in 2005 weight gain and seed production of B. ruziziensis earned a gross income of US$879 over 1.5 ha, covering all expenses for fencing, fertiliser, seeds, and bull management for the first year. The income generated by this fattening programme in 2006 was $362/ha, the equivalent of a paddy rice yield of 1.8 t/ha, which is unlikely in this ecology. Development of specific market channels for seeds could indirectly improve pasture management, avoid high stocking rates and generate new income that could be invested in fertilisers and animal care. The approach followed by PRONAE highlights the collaboration process progressively developed with all of the stakeholders (smallholders, agronomists, District Agriculture and Extension Office staff, development projects, policy-makers and the private sector). One of the main challenges involved with this approach is the transfer to extension agencies and the private sector, over the medium term, of a research-development programme with systems and technologies based on the main principles of conservation agriculture (permanent soil cover, no soil disturbance, and diversified crop rotations with use of relay and/or cover crops)....

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