Improving smallholder livelihood and soil management in Laos through conservation agriculture and DMC systems

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Over the past fifteen years, farming systems have changed drastically in Laos, with swidden systems giving way to more modern agricultural technologies in many areas. In southern Xayabury, with agricultural intensification, rotational cultivation systems and fallow periods are disappearing, being progressively replaced by a ‘resource-mining’ agriculture that has serious social and environmental costs, including increased soil erosion (leading to destruction of roads and paddy fields), loss of soil fertility, and chemical pollution of the environment. On altitude plains, in the upper part of the Nam Ngum river basin (Xieng Khouang province), large areas of savannah grasslands are under-utilized by smallholders with main farming systems based on lowland paddy fields, livestock production with extensive grazing on savannah grasslands and off-farm activities. Regarding these situations, the Lao National Agro-Ecology Programme (PRONAE) implemented an iterative research-development approach oriented on Conservation Agriculture in order to find innovative systems to revert, in southern Xayabury, the present ‘resource-mining’ practices and to develop alternatives systems on higher plains in Xieng Khouang province. Direct Seeding Mulch-Based Cropping (DMC) systems with residues management were evaluated and validated by farmers groups in five villages in southern Xayabury during four seasons. Positive results (increase of net income and labour productivity) are evident for direct seeding systems in southern Xayabury, where growing interest and potential for widespread adoption have been observed. Results show that the level of dissemination of DMC systems differs greatly among the villages surveyed depending on their environmental and socio-economic conditions. On altitude plain, in Xieng Khouang province, the economical and technical viabilities of ‘workshop’ fattening were analyzed. Fattening on improved pastureland (Brachiaria ruziziensis) during the rainy season appears to be a very efficient activity with high growth rates recorded. In 2005, weight gain and seed production obtained during this experiment represents a gross income of $879 (1.5ha) and covers all expenses for fencing, fertiliser, seeds, and bull management over the first year. Income generated in 2006 by bulls fattening can be converted in paddy rice and represents, per ha, 1.8 tons of rice (362 $US/ha) which is unexpected in this ecology of altitude plains. Development of specific market channels for seeds could indirectly improve pasture management, avoid high stocking rates and generate new income that could be invested in fertiliser and animal care. Full conference paper can be found in the Mountain Forum on-line library.  
Year: 2006
Language: English
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