21 MAR 2013
Foreign agribusiness investment creates both opportunities and challenges in Lao PDR
In recent years, Lao PDR has undergone dramatic change as a consequence of increasing foreign investments. But with growth also comes potential challenges. On 7-8 March, international agency Oxfam and the Faculty of Agriculture of the National University of Laos co-organised the International Conference on Foreign Investments in the Agricultural Sector of the Lao PDR: Opportunities and Challenges for Poverty Reduction and Development in Vientiane, with an aim to explore both positive and negative impacts brought about by the rise in foreign agribusiness investments.
The 20-plus attendees included government officials from Lao PDR and China, as well as representatives from universities, research institutes, private corporations and the media. The conference was also covered in the Vientiane Times and the Social Economic News. Most participants found the issues discussed in the conference relevant and important. They gained an understanding of the country’s agribusiness and expressed interest in engaging in further discussions and collaborations to promote corporate social responsibility in the agribusiness sector.
Laotian farmers account for more than 70 per cent of the country’s population; about 20 per cent of all farming families still live below the poverty line. As foreign investment in agribusiness grows steadily, jobs and farmers’ income has also increased. Yet farmers are also adversely affected by land concessions and environmental degradation. The country may lose access to land associated with large-scale farming, disadvantaging poor farmers, landless people and those with insecure jobs and low wages. It may also fall victim to unfair contracts and weak bargaining power.
The conference discussed topics including how multinational corporations could promote sustainable agricultural investments that benefit Laotian farmers and communities, the role of the Lao government in agricultural development, how to encourage corporations to abide by the law and corporate social responsibility principles, and what policies should the governments of Lao and investing countries implement in order to ensure investments that are responsible, pro-poor and sustainable.
In 2010, Oxfam began to commission a series of studies on agribusiness expansion in the Mekong region, hoping to form a strategy for maximising benefits and minimising costs. For more on Oxfam’s work in Lao PDR, please visit http://www.oxfam.org.hk/en/seminar.aspx