Mr Khonsavanh is standing in front of the vegetable garden he created as part of WFP's Cash for Assets project. Copyright: WFP/Annika Harald
Many people in northern Lao PDR still face difficulties feeding their families throughout the year. WFP is currently supporting people in Oudomxay province through a Cash-for-Assets project to improve their food security and diversify their nutrition in the long term. These projects were recently completed, but the benefits are just starting to flow in.
OUDOMXAY - “I grow beans, cabbages, onions, bananas, pumpkins, chilies, eggplants and lemongrass. The first vegetables will be ready to harvest in 10 days,“ explains Mr Khonsavanh while standing in front of his new 500 square metre vegetable garden. Just a couple of months ago, before the World Food Programme’s Cash-for-Assets project started in Namdor village, this place was filled with bushes and trees.
Like Mr Khonsavanh, 17 other households in Namdor village participated in the project and constructed an irrigation system, expanded paddy fields and created vegetable gardens. In addition, a nutrition training took place in the village to educate the participants on healthy food selection and cooking methods. Families in Namdor village were chosen to participate in the Cash-for-Assets project because they don’t have adequate food throughout the year, but their village is close to a market where they could buy the items they need.
Investment in the future
These families need to invest all their time and efforts to secure food on a daily basis and have no resources left to invest in projects that can improve their food and nutrition security in the long term. Through the Cash-for-Assets project, WFP gives them an opportunity to invest in their future while taking care of their current needs at the same time, giving them the freedom to choose how to do this.
Mr Khonsavanh is smiling when he tells us about the nutrition training he attended: "I learned how important good food is, and how it affects the health of my family,“ he says. He has four sons, aged 3 to14, who need enough of the right food to grow into strong and healthy adults. He and his wife are now paying more attention on how they store and cook their food to prevent loss of important nutrients. In the training they also learned how to use more vegetables to get all the vitamins they need.
The family is growing rice, pumpkins, beans and cucumbers in upland fields, which are a two-hour walk from the village. These crops can be harvested only once a year during the rainy season. Now they have a garden just next to their home, which they can use all year round. Mr Khonsavanh worked for three weeks to clear the area, sow the seeds and build a fence for the garden to prevent animals destroying the plants. Water for the garden he gets from the nearby river. When nurtured well, the garden will give his family valuable nutrients for years to come.
Benefits for nutrition and education
For each day invested in the project, Mr Khonsavanh received LAK20,000 (US$1.60) – money he and his wife will now invest in their sons’ education. “Usually I need to borrow money from other people to pay for the school uniforms, books and other things my sons need when they go to school – money I then pay back by selling part of my harvest. But this year, because of this project, I didn’t have to borrow.”
Many other participants will also use the money for their children’s education, and some have plans to expand their new vegetable gardens. The Cash-for-Assets project has given Mr Khonsavanh and other participants the knowledge and tools to diversify their food and improve their nutrition in the short and long term. This year, Mr Khonsavanh’s four sons will start their school year wearing new uniforms and carrying new books, stomachs filled with healthy, nutritious food from their own garden.