Agricultural investment in the Mekong region by large neighbouring countries such as China, Thailand and Vietnam has created both risks and opportunities for poor people in Laos. On 13 March 2014, the National University of Laos and Oxfam held a joint one-day conference in Vientiane to discuss poverty reduction in the face of these foreign investments.
Over 40 representatives from various ministries, universities and NGOs attended the conference, ‘International Conference on Sustainable Agribusiness Foreign Investments in Laos: Opportunities and Challenges for Poverty Reduction’. The conference served as an important platform to facilitate dialogue between stakeholders in Laos and China on issues relating to agricultural foreign investments in the Southeast Asian country. The participants discussed ways to address the issues from the perspective of sustainable development and delivered policy recommendations on regulating agricultural foreign investments. Oxfam also launched the Lao version of Agribusiness Investments in Laos: Opportunities and Challenges for Poverty Reduction .
Conference participants included 10 representatives from the Laotian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Planning and Investment, Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, and the District Agriculture and Forestry Offices in 3 provinces: Luang Namtha, Phongsaly, and Borikhamxay. About 30 representatives from research institutes and NGOs in Laos, China and Myanmar also attended and participated.
International Conference on Sustainable Agribusiness Foreign Investments in Laos jointly held in Vientiane by the National University of Laos and Oxfam on 13 March 2014.
A range of issues about agricultural foreign investments in Laos was discussed, including the lack of legal compliance by investors, environmental and social impacts of the use of agrochemicals, the lack of technology transfer from investors, and policies and regulations that the governments of Laos and the investing countries should implement to promote sustainable, responsible, pro-poor and pro-equality investments in agriculture. Participants gained an understanding of the country’s agribusinesses and expressed an interest in engaging in further discussions and collaborations to promote corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the agribusiness sector. They also networked, taking the opportunity to exchange information about markets where key agricultural products are sold. The participants saw the need for a platform to be established where countries under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations could regularly discuss research and relevant information.
The conference ended with a list of policy recommendations, including those calling for the following: long-term research on the impact of the agricultural foreign investments; initiatives to empower the local communities by sharing information about the agricultural market; stronger regulations on the use of agrochemicals; enhancements in the Laotian government’s knowledge regarding the foreign investors and CSR; improvements in the investor countries’ understanding of CSR; better communication between stakeholders; and better conduct among investors.