ASEAN chairmanship spurs dialogue on Responsible Agricultural Investment in Laos

Small-scale agriculture plays a pivotal role in driving Laos’ rural economy, with vast untapped potential for growth. Realizing this potential requires proper investment and protecting agricultural land resources and the communities that rely on them. The Third National Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) was held at the Lao Plaza Hotel in Vientiane from September 28-29, addressing these critical issues and advocating for necessary policy reforms.

The event was in line with the adoption of the ASEAN Guidelines on Responsible Investment in Food, Agriculture, and Forestry in 2018, aimed at bolstering agribusiness’s social and environmental performance. As Laos prepares to assume the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2024, the organizers believe that the Lao government has a unique opportunity to push for a greener and more responsible approach to agricultural investments.

The dialogue brought agribusiness investors, representatives of finance institutions, producer groups and cooperatives into dialogue with key ministries and development organizations active in agro-investment. Participants raised diverse opportunities and challenges for RAI in Laos including access to finance, environmental challenges, carbon investment and the stability of contracts. This approach emphasizes engaging investors and smallholder producers in agricultural and forestry value chains, ultimately fostering a more holistic, equitable, and mutually beneficial approach to agricultural development.

In her opening remarks, Aurelie Righetti, Deputy Director of SDC, underscored the significance of this context while reaffirming SDC’s commitment to supporting reforms in the sector, stating: “Lao PDR will have the opportunity to show leadership in the implementation of RAI, showcasing achievements and helping to pave the way for meaningful commitment to responsible investments. This is an opportunity that should be grasped.”

The dialogue also addressed pressing concerns regarding agricultural investment in the country, including the increasing investment in export-oriented crops like cassava and rubber and the surge in land conflicts stemming from lax law enforcement.

In his keynote address, Dr. Micah Ingalls, Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) Project Team Leader, emphasized the importance of good governance and the rule of law. He pointed out, “Attracting high-quality, responsible agriculture investors requires enabling conditions of good and transparent governance, accountability, and the rule of law. Without a level playing field, responsible investors cannot succeed and will not come. We cannot achieve our goals without bringing to heel irresponsible corporate actors and enforcing the rule-of-law at all levels, without favor or partiality.”

Mrs. Cécile LeRoy, Programme Manager at the European Union’s Delegation to Lao PDR, emphasized the EU’s commitment to sustainability and inclusivity in its development cooperation. She highlighted the upcoming EU-financed project TICAF, a Team Europe Partnership with Lao PDR, aiming to increase sustainable trade, investment, and connectivity in the agriculture and forestry sectors. LeRoy highlighted the importance of Responsible Agricultural Investment in fostering mutually beneficial partnerships between the public and private sector and communities, taking care of the environment to ensure sustainability.

The event is jointly hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Department of Agricultural Extension and Cooperatives and the Ministry of Planning and Investment’s Investment Promotion Department. GIZ, EU, and BMZ are co-sponsors of this annual event, while the Mekong Region Land Governance Project (MRLG), Transformative Land Investments (TLI), and GIZ Promoting Responsible Governance of Investments in Land (RGIL) are responsible for its coordination.

More photos here.

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