Lao PDR has seen a great deal of economic growth, however the country still faces an alarming hunger situation and malnutrition challenges. In 2012, 44.2 percent of children younger than five years old were stunted, 26.8 percent underweight and 5.9 percent wasted. Micronutrient deficiencies are also suspected to be a critical problem in Laos. The prevalence of stunting and underweight children is closely associated with poverty and geography.
The Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture project, implemented in four countries (Laos, Nepal, Cambodia, and Indonesia) found that at 13 out of 17 provinces, stunting levels are higher than World Health organisation’s (WHO) critical threshold of 40 percent. Children in rural areas without road access are twice as likely to be malnourished than children in urban areas.
Main causes of the malnutrition problem are inadequate nutrient intake and high frequency of food and vector-borne diseases. The underlying factors behind these are poor knowledge on nutrition and harmful practice and traditions on feeding household; households’ food insecurity; limited access to farmland; poor mother and childcare practices; and limited access to safe water as well as poor access to safe water and good sanitation. The Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture project was thus developed to focus on the dietary intake and capacity of people to produce and develop behaviour that leads to the consumption of nutritious foods or giving these foods to young children. The project goal was to enhance food security and nutritional status of value chain actors, targeting both the demand and supply side of nutritious food among households in four village in rural areas of Houaphanh province.
The project, which has been running in Lao PDR since the start of 2014, aimed to develop a toolkit for the assessment of nutrition and gender sensitive agriculture, including WASH supporting elements, which focused on the participatory consultation of communities. The testing of the toolkit also allowed for implementation of activities that support improved nutrition and food security at a grassroots level. 134 households received direct benefits, and 335 received indirect benefits from the project’s activities. In addition to national and community mapping, and the drafting of the toolkit, the project supported vegetable production improvement, native chicken raising, and nutrition education for mothers with young children. Although the project has just celebrated a successful close of these small-scale pilot activities, the work has just begun, and the toolkit developed from the project will be used by SNV in Lao PDR to implement future nutrition-oriented projects in the Agriculture sector.