The majority of people living in the remote mountainous areas of Laos carve out a living by growing rice.
But the traditional slash and burn rotation system they use on the steep hillsides of their communities results in soil erosion that undermines future crops. As farmers rotate their upland fields to seek sufficient soil, agricultural land is becoming decreasingly available, putting added stress on farmers already working to their capacity. In addition to the challenge of finding land to support their crops, farmers have the added burden of children malnourished by rice-heavy diets.
World Renew works with these communities to find ways to diversify both nutrition and income streams that are sustainable, as well as helping improve sanitation and access to clean water.
Six years ago, World Renew staff met Mr. Saihoua Tao, from a Hmong village in Nonghet district of Xieng Khouang Province, who, like his fellow farmers, was struggling to survive by growing rice. We encouraged him to diversify the plants growing in his upland fields and, during a visit with Mr. Saihoua in January of this year, I was greatly encouraged to see the rich level of diversity in his crops. In addition to growing papaya, pineapples, and various vegetables, Mr. Saihoua was now raising pigs, chickens, and fish.
His fish “crop” was particularly impressive. His ponds now hold over 4000 juvenile fish, providing a regular source of protein for him and his extended family, and Mr. Saihoua has engineered an ingenious way to feed them using a light bulb hung above the pond. The bulb is connected to a small turbine that sits in a stream flowing down the mountain through his property. He turns the light on at night to attract insects that supplement the mixture of corn, cassava, and rice husks he feeds his fish.
I was most excited by Mr. Saihou’s recent planting of several varieties of cardamom, a spice commonly used in China for treating stomach aches and constipation.
World Renew has had a lot of success in recent years promoting cardamom in the northern province of Phongsaly, where some 408 families are now benefiting from the added income provided by this crop as well as the plant’s natural protection against soil erosion. Last year, we decided to take a number of farmers from Mr. Saihoua’s village in Xieng Khouang on the 2-day long journey to Phongsaly to learn from farmers there. Mr. Saihoua joined us on the trip and returned with cardamom shoots, which he quickly planted in his own fields. As he led us to his cardamom plot planted on a steep slope, I needed to use a stick to ensure I did not slip down the hill.
I marvel at how farmers manage to not only walk up and down these steep slopes, but to plant, care for, and eventually harvest products without falling down and injuring themselves frequently.
Gazing over the lush growth of cardamom, I appreciated not only Mr. Saihoua’s agility, but the results of his persistence and hard work. His soil is being protected from erosion already, and next year his cardamom field will begin bearing fruit. He already has plans to expand his cardamom crop, as the price for cardamom is very good.
Mr. Saihoua is sharing his experience with other farmers in his village and will continue to encourage them to plant cardamom as well, laying the foundation for improving farming systems in his remote community. He is an entrepreneur who is willing to take a risk and try something new. Many of his neighbors are waiting to see what kind of yield and benefits Mr. Saihoua sees before they invest time and energy in this new endeavor.
Just as Mr Saihoua was able to apply what he learned from his visit to Phongsaly, World Renew now hopes to bring farmers from nearby villages to his village for peer-to-peer learning, providing them with an opportunity to see and hear about how these steep slopes can become part of a sustainable farming system that both protects the environment and provides for livelihood needs for their families now and in the future.
Fennema Family June 2019 Newsletter
Fennema Family and World Renew Laos Recent and Upcoming Events and Prayer needs:
- We are grateful for the good news we received from the results of blood work Moe Moe had done in Bangkok on April 25, which showed no issues of concern. We are waiting to hear back on the results of the test for cancer markers in the blood. The doctor did arrange for the continuation of the oral chemo and Moe Moe’s next follow up will be June 16-18 and include another PET scan.
- Progress with getting an Memorandum of Understanding with the Laotian government for World Renew activities in Mai district, Phongsaly province is moving ahead. Both the district and province have approved the MOU, and we hope to have a meeting with the ministry in mid- June and finalize and sign the MOU in July.
- Monica arrived in Laos on April 29 after completing her second year of University. Over the last month, she has been working most days at the international school, filling in for instructional assistants on sick leave. Monica is excited about her plans to spend second semester next year on a semester abroad program in Uganda.
- Maria graduated from Grade 12 on May 31, 2019. Congratulations, Maria! She also made the decision to attend Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Mike will travel back with Maria on August 22 to help her get ready for university.
- Matthew participated in a local swim competition on May 25 and broke some personal best records, notably in the 50m butterfly. Earlier, during the April school break, Matthew obtained a certificate for open water diving.
- The project team in Xieng Khouang is planning for an end of Phase 3 meeting at the end of June, as we wrap up activities in current target villages. Plans for Phase 4 are continuing as we discuss with authorities in Nonghet District which villages will be targeted and agree on priorities for the improved well being of these remote communities.