Despite significant development progress in recent years, hunger remains a significant problem in Lao PDR, with 44% of children under 5 years old being malnourished placing their lives at risk and damaging their lifelong health. This issue is particularly severe in Nong District, one of the poorest areas in Lao PDR, and where the people can suffer food shortages for many months in the year. To tackle these problems MCNV takes a nutrition-sensitive approach to its agricultural and livelihoods work within some of poorest villages in the district.
This approach seeks to maximize agricultures contribution to nutrition and recognizes the multiple benefits derived from enjoying a varied and nutritious diet, the social significance of food and the importance of agriculture in supporting rural livelihoods. Instead of focusing exclusively on crop production for the market, villagers use their land to cultivate a variety of commodities including fruits, vegetables, small livestock and fish. In Nong, MCNV has supported this approach by supporting the development of fish ponds, providing seeds and equipment for home gardens and strengthening village veterinary services to ensure healthy livestock. MCNV’s approach to agriculture also entails promoting gender equity, and providing nutrition education so that household resources are used to improve nutrition, especially that of women and young children. For example, the approach looks at the division of labour between men and women, to ensure mothers have enough time to breastfeed their infants. Finally, MCNV adopts a multi-sectoral approach to nutrition linking agriculture to sectors that address other causes of malnutrition, namely education, health and social protection.
Through working in partnership with organisations ranging from village development committees to the Ministries of Agriculture, MCNV has improved agricultural production whilst preserving the soil, land and water that villagers depend upon, but most importantly it has helped to reduce hunger and malnutrition improving the health of children with lifelong benefits.
In the coming years MCNV is working with the Food and Business Knowledge Platform and VU University in the Netherlands to conduct research into the impacts of nutrition-sensitive agriculture to ensure that it can be scaled-up so many more people in Lao PDR and elsewhere can benefit from this approach.