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NCP mobility students support research enhancing food security in Cambodia and Laos

Data collected by New Colombo Plan (NCP) mobility students has helped identify agricultural development opportunities to enhance the usage of lowland soil in the Lower Mekong River Basin.

The research outcomes recently published in the Agronomy journal documented methods to improve maize production in the dry season, a non-rice crop that can positively support the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the area.

Agriculture is the lifeblood for approximately 60% of the population in the Lower Mekong River Basin, an area that covers the land of four south-east Asian countries, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

In 2016, undergraduate students from Charles Sturt University received NCP Mobility Grants to participate in a program organised by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) titled Ground to Plate—farming systems in Cambodia/Laos.

The students collected data on varying irrigation design and organic soil amendments.  

Both Cambodia and Laos have been identified by the United Nations World Food Programme as two of the most impoverished nations in southeast Asia, with high rates of poverty, food insecurity and poor nutrition.

Thomas Jeffery, who conducted field-based research in Laos, provided insight into the NCP supported program and spoke to the importance of food security for people living in the Lower Mekong River Basin. 

“Food security helps to enhance the productivity and consecutively the production of food. Without food security millions of people would starve and lead to a poor way of living.”

Thomas told of his time in Laos as an ‘incredible experience’, which broadened his cultural understanding and e provided an appreciation for the differences in food production between Australia and Laos, such as “crops grown, chemical use and size of each farm”.

“I found it amazing how farms were so small in comparison to Australian farms and how families had to attempt to make a living of this small amount of land.”

Thomas is now an agronomist with IK Caldwell based in Shepparton, regional Victoria.

In this role for 3 years, Thomas is responsible for managing and providing advice for broadacre winter and summer crops such as wheat, barley, canola, and maize.

Thomas described the New Colombo Plan as a great initiative that positions students for success through unique insights, cultural immersion, and the opportunity to gain international experience.

Research seeking to achieve food security and improve nutrition is more critical than ever as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems.

World Food Day is a timely reminder of the integral and active part global food systems play in everyday life and the urgency to increase agricultural productivity and sustainable food production in delivering nutrition for all.

See more information about World Food Day.

Photo of a farmers farming on a farm.
Irrigating peanut trial plots in Laos. Credit: Supplied.
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