Laos at the crossroads

by Isabelle Delforge | 26 Jun 2001


Laos at the crossroads

By Isabelle Delforge

Seedling June 2001

Having stuck its heels in to resist the Green Revolution, Lao farmers are coming under increasing pressure to adopt the industrial agricultural model and to join the global market place. Housing some of the richest genetic resources in Southeast Asia, Laos has also caught the eye of bioprospectors interested in its rich rice heritage and strong traditional medicine culture. These two influences have started the gene drain, which will accelerate fast unless the country takes some conscious steps to stem the flow. Will Laos follow the path chosen by its newly industrialising neighbours or cut its own trail in a direction that supports sustainable agriculture, peoples' livelihoods and its genetic heritage?

Laos is a small, landlocked country whose most valuable resource is human and natural diversity. It is home to five million people comprising 47 main ethnic groups and about 150 sub-groups with distinctive traditions and knowledge. It also houses the most pristine tropical rainforest remaining in Southeast Asia, and has the highest availability of renewable water resources per capita in Asia. Its rich diversity includes at least 3-4,000 varieties of rice and a treasure trove of medicinal plants. No wonder that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has described Laos as a "collector's paradise".

Laos is one of the least industrialised countries in the world and is categorised as a Least Developed Country (LDC). But its LDC label could be more positively spelt out as a Least Damaged Country. The strikingly low density of population (22 people/km2 compared with 117/km2 in Thailand and 238/km2 in Vietnam), its mountainous topography and its relative isolation from the world economy have protected it from the massive destruction of natural resources seen elsewhere in the region. (The one exception to this is the extensive dam-age caused by the Vietnam war). The industrial sector is extremely limited and the vast majority of the population are subsistence farmers.

Yet in the last decade, the landscape started to change dramatically. In 1986, Laos entered its New Economic Mechanism, ushering in a transition from centrally-planned to market economy. As soon as it opened up to the capitalist world, a new breed of professionals entered the country: retailers of agrochemical products, loggers and bioprospectors. The rush to collect the rich diversity and the related traditional knowledge has been described by IRRI as a "race against time", since Laos' integration to the global world is leading to a massive and rapid depletion of its natural resources.

Sticky rice glues the country together

Agriculture is the main source of food and income for 84% of the population. According to the World Bank, this sector accounts for more than 50% of the Gross Domestic Product. Civil servants, teachers and small shopkeepers in the urban areas commonly grow rice and vegetables as a secondary source of income. Rice is the single most important crop and is grown 80% of the cultivated area. Rice fields are even in found in the centre of Vientiane, the capital city. Most rice is consumed directly by producers and only 10% is sold on the market. Laos is located within the primary centre of origin and domestication of Asian rice (Oryza sativa L.), and archaeological findings have traced its cultivation back 4,000 years. Some 85% of the rice produced in Laos is the glutinous type known as "sticky rice", which also has its centre of origin in Laos and Northern Thailand.

Lao farmers usually grow one crop a year, using minimum inputs apart from family labour. Most production is rainfed, with only about 12% of cultivated land under irrigation. The lowland area stretching along the Mekong River Valley is the rice basket of the country, generating 88% of national production. Here, the rapid introduction of improved seeds, the increased use of agrochemical products and mechan-isation is progressing at a very fast pace. On the other hand, only traditional varieties are cultivated in the upland areas, and hardly any chemical inputs are used. Upland cultivation produces less than 12% of the national rice harvest, but a wide range of other crops, fruits and vegetables are intercropped with it.

Centuries of farmers' selection as well as rich cultural and ecosystem diversity have allowed the development of an amazing diversity of traditional rice varieties. In the villages and markets, rice colours range from black to purple to white to red to brown. People select rice by smelling it, as they value aromatic varieties highly. Farmers name them according to their agronomic characteristics, taste or appearance. These include "early aroma from heaven" (Do intok), "broken jaw rice" (Khao khang lout hak), "rice which forgets water" (Khao leum nam), "rice protected from the wind" (Khao pan lom), and "rice that wins against weeds" (Khao phe nya).

In the lowlands, farmers traditionally grow an average of three to five varieties of differing maturity time on various terraces in order to reduce risk, distribute labour demand and meet specific consumption requirements. However, in the southern region up to seven varieties have been recorded as being grown by individual households, and as many as 18 varieties were identified in a single village. But the greatest diversity is found in the upland areas. Farmers grow many varieties together in the same field to reduce potential risks due to droughts, floods, pests and diseases. As many as 13 different types of have been identified in a single field in Luang Prabang in the North of the country.

Sticky rice against globalisation

From 1961 to 1973, the US Army dropped two million tonnes of bombs on Laos as part of its campaign during the Vietnam war. Laos became the most heavily bombed country per capita in human history. Thousands of people died, villages and towns were flattened while Agent Orange destroyed forests and arable land for decades. While the bombing was taking place, The US Agency for International Development was heavily supporting the pro-US government in Vientiane. The aid agency sponsored the introduction of new high-yielding rice varieties and the chemical inputs that were being widely promoted in many Asian's countries. These "miracle seeds" were part of the US' strategy to supplement its military efforts to get rid of communism.

By the mid-seventies, the US had lost the war in Vietnam and Laos, and the Lao communist party had founded the People's Democratic Republic of Laos. By then, the Green Revol-ution had failed. The improved varieties that were sweeping through Asia at that time were non-glutinous types and Lao farmers rejected them in favour of traditional sticky varieties. This is the reason that up to the early nineties, Laos largely kept away from the industrial agricultural model.

Various crosses aimed at improving glutinous rice were made at the newly-created Salakham Rice Research and Seed Multi-plication Station from the late seventies to the early nineties, but these had met with little success. Prior to 1993, traditional seeds were grown on more than 90% of the rainfed lowlands and on the totality of the upland paddies. Farmers keep their seeds from year to year, exchanging them at the local level, and buying new ones every 3 or 4 years, if cash is available, either from the government or the commercial sector.



1. Self-sufficiency in rice. Feeding the rapidly growing population is the major concern of the government's policy. Self-sufficiency in rice has only just become a reality (over 2 million tons was produced in 1999). However, upland communities keep facing chronic shortages while lowlands farmers are producing surpluses.

2. Market-driven agriculture development. In its Strategic Vision paper that encompasses agricultural policies for the next ten years, the government affirms that it is "committed to trade liberalisation and regional economic integration along the guidelines of the Asian Free Trade Area, the World Trade Organisation and Asean". It presents an optimistic scenario for a market-driven development, based on irrigation, new "science-based inputs", and better credit facilities for farmers. Some cash crops will be promoted due to the country's "competitive advantage in the Mekong Corridor for products like paddy, maize, groundnuts, soybean, cotton, sugarcane and coffee". But it is unclear how the country will be able to compete with major exporters like Thailand, Vietnam and China, except in some small niche markets, such as organic produce or "boutique" products like sticky aromatic rice.

3. Stabilisation of 'slash and burn' cultivation. According to the Strategic Vision paper, shifting cultivation "is seen as an unsustainable land use practice by the Government who have declared their intention to stabilise it by the year 2000 and beyond in favour of more stable and productive agricultural methods, including the more sustainable rotational land use system". The growing pressure on land due to population increase and commercial logging has reportedly reduced the fallow period from 10 to 20 years to five to seven years, which the government sees as a problem. However, some Lao experts challenge the government's assumptions and argue that shifting cultivation can be sustainable and deserves much greater attention.

A surge of new seeds

However, in 1993, the National Rice Research Programme (a collaboration between IRRI and the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute) started releasing new glutinous varieties. Ironically, despite the rich diversity available in the country, the research programme only used material from outside, mainly from Thai-IRRI lines. None of the nine improved varieties released to farmers so far have been developed from local seeds. In recent years, the few Lao formal breeders that exist have started researching on local varieties. Initial results are promising: 1999 trials showed that some local varieties can produce up to 4.8 tons per hectare, compared to the national average of 2.9 tons.

Apart from the varieties promoted by the government's extension services, improved seeds are also entering Laos (legally and illegally) from Thailand, China and Vietnam, mostly brought in by individual farmers or small retailers. The country's extensive and porous borders and the long history of cross-border trade hinder all attempts to control these movements. One hybrid rice variety from China is now grown by an increasing number of farmers in the North of the country. Producers were attracted by the promise of higher yields, but were put off by the poor eating quality of this non-glutinous rice. However, in some cases they have become dependent on seed merchants for each planting, because they can no longer save their own seed.

Despite the slow rate of influx of "improved" varieties into the country as a whole, in the lowland areas new varieties are now rapidly replacing traditional ones. In 1999, more than 70% of the area in most provinces along the Mekong River Valley was sown to improved varieties. Here, genetic erosion is taking place at a very fast pace. As a joint Lao-IRRI rice germplasm collection programme (discussed below) states, "One of the project's major aims had been to preserve traditional varieties and wild species before they disappeared forever. Collection began at the right time in 1995 (...), just before the large-scale adoption of the modern varieties began. If the collection activity had started in 1999, many of the traditional varieties would have no longer been available in the lowland environment".

Ironically, the impressive diversity that IRRI is trying so hard to conserve is being destroyed by the introduction of a handful of improved seeds, partly developed by IRRI itself. Very few resources and energy are being channelled towards conservation in farmers' fields. Focusing on the direct improvement of trad-itional varieties by farmers themselves would allow biodiversity to flourish at the same time as increasing production. In 2000, the Lao Department of Agriculture entered a parti-cipatory breeding programme with farming communities to do just this. The Biodiversity Use and Conservation in Asia Programme is being implemented in five provinces in order to revert the shift towards a sharp reduction of varieties grown in the lowland rice fields and shifting agricultural research towards the control of farmers themselves.

Chemicals on the rise

The rapid introduction of improved rice varieties in the lowland areas has not been accompanied by a massive increase in the use of agro-chemicals; and the country probably remains the smallest consumer of chemical fertilisers and pesticides per capita in the region. In rainfed rice production, the use of agro-chemicals remains quite limited. Most farmers continue to use organic manure and do not feel the need for pesticides as their agroecosystems remain relatively stable thanks to a high degree of biological diversity. A survey of rice farmers conducted throughout the country in 1994 indicated that the majority of the farmers who did not apply pesticides reported higher yields. The same study warned that in such an environment, the use of pesticides could rapidly upset the ecological balance and lead to pest outbreaks.

However, agrochemical use is increasing, mostly for vegetable cultivation and dry-season irrigated rice. Farmers are progressively replacing buffalos with small tractors, thereby losing an important source of fertiliser and increasing the need for external inputs. With strong commercial pressure coming from the neighbouring countries, Laos could soon become a dumping ground for obsolete or banned chemicals produced by the world's major pesticide companies and their Asian subsidiaries.

In search of alternatives

The developing divide between farmers embracing industrial agriculture and those intent on sticking to more sustainable agricultural practices is also reflected in government policy. Although agricultural intensification remains a key thrust of agricultural policy, other elements promote more sustainable, farmer-based initiatives. A growing number of government workers, from extension workers to high ranking officials, are shifting towards the promotion of more sustainable agricultural practices. Organic or low external input agriculture is seen as an interesting proposition to generate exports. The official press regularly publishes articles about the comparative advantage Laos has in this arena. The very high cost of agrochemicals, machinery, and so on is also a strong argument in favour of development based on national resources, especially in the light of the the Asian crisis. Laos alone does not have the financial capacity to support the full package needed for agricultural intens-ification, and is highly dependent on external donors. The latter may have more sway over the direction agriculture heads than the government itself.

Farmers also have an important role to play. They are not mere recipients of policy guide-lines. In the past, Lao farmers rejected policies that did not suit their needs. The failure of the Green Revolution 30 years ago and the collapse of the collectivised agriculture after the revolution were due to one factor only: people simply did not do what they were told. The situation is less black and white now, since some lowlanders are starting to adopt the industrial agricultural model, but farmers still have clear ideas of their own about what they are prepared to do and what they are not. Extension officers are sent to the fields to convince farmers to grow a second (dry season) rice crop when irrigation is available, but many farmers refuse if the first crop gives them enough rice for the whole year. The second crop is work- and capital-intensive - farmers have to pay for irrigation, chemical fertilisers and pesticides (not required for rainfed cultivation), as well as improved seeds (most traditional seeds are photosensitive and not suited for the dry season). Besides, the dry season harvest gives poor quality rice with high moisture content that people prefer not to consume. Farmers who do grow a second crop usually sell it, keeping the rice from the rainy season for domestic consumption.

Bioprospectors roll in

It is not just a changing agricultural model that threatens Laos' biological resources and the livelihoods of the communities that tend them. Laos opened up to the outside world just as the "green gold rush" took off globally. With the new business opportunities offered by the patenting of plants, developed world trans-national companies and research institutions intensified their efforts to appropriate the world's biological resources and related traditional knowledge. Most of the time, their main goal is not to protect or conserve these resources, but to copyright and market them. Traditional seeds and wild species are attractive to prospectors as they can provide the raw material for crop characteristics (such as disease or drought resistance) that are valuable to commercial breeding programmes. Medicinal plants offer tremendous potential for the development of new drugs.

Attracted by the rich and relatively untouched rice diversity in Laos, IRRI signed an agreement with the Lao Department of Agriculture and Extension (DAE) for the collection of rice germplasm between 1995 and 2000. At the end of this period, IRRI-trained collectors had gathered 13,193 samples from all over the country, representing at least 3,200 varieties. Some 85.5% of these were glutinous types. They collected more than 300 aromatic varieties and 236 samples of wild rices. The reseachers visited hundred of villages, from the plains of the Mekong to the top of the mountains and talked to hundreds of farmers belonging to most of the Lao ethnic groups. According to the collectors, farmers were usually happy to give out a handful of seeds, as free exchange has been a traditional practice for centuries. Never-theless, they also admit that they sometimes faced opposition, when farmers didn't have enough seeds for themselves or when cultural taboos did not allow giving seeds to foreigners.

One set of samples was sent to IRRI's Inter-national Rice Genebank in the Philippines, which is the largest rice seeds collection in the world. A second set is kept in Laos, in a genebank created at the National Agricultural Research Center for medium-term preservation. However, as a Lao researcher puts it: "Our genebank is supposed to keep the seeds for 20 years, but that doesn't take into account the regular power cuts affecting the area. It might actually be much shorter".
IRRI sees this programme as a remarkable achievement, making Laos the second largest provider of cultivated rices to its genebank (after India). Nevertheless, mixed feelings are expressed on the Lao side. On one hand, researchers and officials are proud of such positive international recognition instead of the usual negative connotations of being a Least Developed Country. For once, Laos has been recognised as a wealthy country, and rich in the most highly valued product in local culture and daily life. In addition, IRRI has provided funding for some of the Lao institutions' activities. Without outside support, national research centres have minimal financial capacity to conduct seed collection and research programmes. Expressing their clear preference for local material, the formal breeders are now starting to tap their new genebank to develop local varieties.

On the other hand, Lao officials are aware that the programme is a trade-off, and that in order to keep working, they are selling away the Lao heritage. As one researcher put it: "IRRI promised not to give any samples of our material for commercial purposes, but for research only. But of course, once the samples are in the Philippines, they can do what they want with them. We lose control". Several people involved in the programme expressed concern over access issues related to the samples. And no thorough discussion has taken place within the institutions involved, not to mention the rural communities, on issues related to intellectual property rights (IPRs). This issue is particularly pressing, since the Programme report concludes that: "Information about the collected samples is probably equally important as the germplasm itself. There is now an urgent need to document the indigenous knowledge of rice of Lao farmers, to complement the rice collection". Like many other countries, Lao legislation on IPRs is pretty much non-existent, and that which is in the pipeline is being guided by the pro-industry agenda (above). The way things are headed, the country is about to sign away its rights to its most valuable resources, which will increase the gene drain dramatically.

As a publicly funded international institution, IRRI offers free access to its genebank to any interested parties. It is therefore very easy for transnational corporations to use this material freely, to modify it slightly, and to patent the 'new' seed. Moreover, the research institution has recently been entering controversial agreements with the private sector, allowing corporate 'partners' to patent the results of research led by the public sector. As a result, farmers from developing countries end up paying royalties on seeds that they have largely developed, adding to the profits of a few global companies. IRRI has been directly implicated in the US corporation RiceTec's controversial patents on basmati rice. The Texan firm got basmati lines from IRRI, which in turn got them from India and Pakistan. Now they are patented in the US.



As a condition to access to World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership, the Lao government is under pressure to adopt IPR legislation in accordance with international standards. The World Intellectual Property Organisation is funding the Science, Technology and Environment Agency to develop this new legal framework. Significantly, the only related legislation passed so far is a decree on trademarks (1995) that protects foreign business almost exclusively: out of the 800 applications granted up to now, 99% were granted to foreign companies. Beside this, a law on industrial property has already been adopted by the Prime Minister's Office but is awaiting for WIPO's comments on its compatibility with the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement before it can be adopted. A Plant Variety Protection bill is also under preparation and should be adopted by the end of 2001. It complies with the 1991 version of the Union for the Protection of Plant Varieties (UPOV 91), which is a first step towards the patenting of plants. As a Lao expert in IPR simply explained: this legal framework is conceived to comply with international standards and to allow Laos to become a full WTO member rather than answer national needs.



Hijacking the healers

The wide range of traditional remedies still used by the various ethnic groups in Laos is attracting bioprospectors from all over the world. A clear target is the Research Institute of Medicinal Plants that has been collecting local knowledge and researching local medicinal plants for 25 years. The Ministry of Health promotes traditional medicines as an important part of the country's primary health system for both rural and urban people. Traditional medicines are part of the curriculum in the schools of pharmacy and are regularly prescribed by doctors.

Attracted by the high commercial potential of these resources, the University of Illinois at Chicago (US) and the leading pharmaceutical company Glaxo Wellcome-UK (now Glaxo-SmithKline) signed an agreement with the Research Institute of Medicinal Plants in Laos and various Vietnamese institutions in order to make an inventory of traditional natural remedies in the two countries and to develop new commercial drugs. The programme focuses on antimalarial, anticancer, and antiviral/anti AIDS treatments, and drugs against diseases of the central nervous system.

This agreement is part of a larger US-funded bioprospecting programme called the Inte-rnational Cooperative Biodiversity Group (ICBG), operated by various institutions and private companies in 12 developing countries. The ICBG supposedly "addresses biodiversity conservation and the promotion of sustained economic activity through drug discovery from natural products". It also claims to promote an "ambitious approach to bioprospecting (that may be) able to address three of the most pressing conditions of the planet simul-taneously: disease, poverty and biodiversity loss". But the reality check is not convincing.

In 1998, the staff of the Research Institute started collecting plants and information under the instructions of its US and UK partners. Informed consent agreements were limited to the requirements of the Convention on Biol-ogical Diversity (CBD), since the government does not have any requirements of its own (see box). All the CBD demands is a collecting permit signed by a government agency and not by the communities, except for a vague and non binding provision mentioning that permits or informed consent by specific communities or individuals will be obtained "as the need arises in specific circumstances." Traditional Medicine Stations at the provincial level were simply asked to introduce project staff to the most renowned healers in surrounding villages to enquire about the plants they use. So far, around 220 samples of plants have been sent to the University of Illinois for screening. Among them, five have been found to have active components: four for treatments against malaria and one against AIDS. The active components have been patented by the University of Illinois and delivered to Glaxo for further development and clinical trials. The bioprospecting project is due to end in 2002, but its promoters intend to reapply for another 5 years of ICBG funding.

What Benefit Sharing?

Benefit sharing is a much hyped provision of bioprospecting agreements. The favourite word is "equitable". According to ICBG: "Intelle-ctual property agreements are negotiated among participating institutions so that economic and other benefits from these discoveries are equitably shared and accrue to local institutions and communities involved in the discovery of the natural product. Contri-butions from pharmaceutical and agroscience companies include screening for therapeutic potential, training opportunities, equipment donations, financial support, and royalties from the sale of any product developed as a result of ICBG research". But what is the bargaining power of a resourceless public institution in a Least Developed Country compared to the US government and a huge pharmaceutical corp-oration? This imbalance makes any discussions on benefit sharing somewhat farcical.

Djaja Djendoel Soejarto, the head of the project based at the University of Illinois, is a major bioprospector in Southeast Asia and is a specialist in benefit-sharing agreements. He offers assurance that the scheme is satisfactory to the compound discoverers, the pharma-ceutical company and the host country. But he is not ready to disclose the details of this highly confidential agreement.

According to the Lao research institute, there is no formal agreement between the collectors and the communities: "We just go away if they don't agree to give us the information. If they give us a lot of good information, we have a small reciprocity fund for the community - about 1 million kip ($US 120). With that amount of money, they can repair the school, the temple, set up a medicinal garden... And we always record the name of the healer in the data collection to be able to trace him back".

According to ICBG, "the long-term contri-bution of the project to the economic devel-opment of the communities lies in the potential funds to be derived form royalties of a successfully developed compound". In this case, more than 51% of royalty income is supposed to be returned to the source country. But this figure is extremely misleading. According to Soejarto, GSK returns only 3 to 5% of the royalties to the benefit-sharing scheme. Out of that, the University of Illinois deducts some of its expenses (like the exorbitant legal costs for patent registration), and then splits the remainder into two parts. Half goes to the US institutions involved in the ICBG programme, the inventors, and the university, while the other 50% is supposed to go back to Vietnam and Laos through a trust fund. To add insult to injury, the draft by-laws of the fund specifies that up to 20-25% of that amount can still be used by the University of Illinois for administrative expenses of the fund. So, the promised 51% really translates to something in the range of 1%.

At the end of this confusing fraction game, the monetary return to Laos and Vietnam is miniscule, especially when it is compared to the profits of the pharmaceutical corporation. Furthermore, nothing is stated about the way in which communities will be involved in fund management or what other benefits they will get from the agreement. The Research Institute of Medicinal Plants does not get a great deal either. It does not receive any payment per sample, but instead a fixed grant used to cover the costs of collection, purchase equipment, and build a tissue culture room. The centre's budget remains extremely limited. It is understaffed and the employees express a strong need for training and capacity building. Despite project rhetoric, training opportunities have been limited to a short study trip to Vietnam for three Lao researchers. The institute does not have the funds or capacity to market its products nationally, while GSK's global sales and marketing team is more than 40,000 strong.

Biodiversity, a commodity

When Laos decided to open up its economy, the country had little option but to step into the global model, where market forces dictate the rules. Free trade reforms were part of the deal imposed by multilateral funders and developed countries. Foreign capital has indeed entered the country, but this has not been matched by a significant strengthening of the local economy. On the contrary, what is happening is a massive auction of the country's main capital: its natural resources, its biodiversity and people's know-ledge related to it. Some 3,000 varieties of rice have been made freely available in the world's biggest genebank at IRRI, forests are being massively exploited by foreign companies and traditional medicines are being handed over to large corporate interests virtually free-of-charge. Foreign debt has increased dramatically, forcing the country to exploit further its resources to pay back its lenders.

Many of the international institutions 'helping' Laos to join the global market-place are acting as double agents, supporting conservation on the one hand and promoting over-exploitaition of resources on the other. For example, the World Bank is funding large dams, which flood huge forested areas, while at the same time giving loans for forest conservation. IRRI set up a rice seed collection programme while its improved seeds are wiping out the diversity it is trying to conserve. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation is running a prog-ramme aimed at reducing pesticide use, while promoting a new "food security programme" based on agricultural intensification.

There are two main consequences of this systematic transformation of resources into commercial goods. Firstly, what was formally controlled and collectively used by local people is shifting under the control of external agents and huge corporations. This is a move towards privatisation and away from collective own-ership. Secondly, massive destruction of natural resources and diversity is taking place, which will affect peoples' livelihoods more and more seriously as time goes on. Nevertheless, compared to many countries in the world, Laos is still at an early stage of 'destruction by globalisation'. Instead of handing over local resources to corporate plunder, it still has time to take a stand against the prevailing free market model and support diversity, peoples' liveli-hoods and local control. The international community has a responsibility to help Laos take this bold step. z

Isabelle Delforge is a freelance journalist based in Vientiane, Laos. She can be reached by email at [email protected]. The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Dit-Dit Perigrina (Southeast Asia Regional Institute for Community Education - SEARICE) and Shalmali Guttal (Focus on the Global South).

Further Reading:

· NAFRI (2001), Lao-IRRI Biodiversity Project - Collection of rice germplasm in the Lao PDR between 1995 and 2000, National Agriculture and Forestry Institute, Vientiane, Laos.
· IMF (2000), Lao People's Democratic Republic: recent economic developments", International Monetary Fund Staff Country Report No. 3, IMF, Washington DC.
· JM Schiller et al (no date), "Glutinous rice varieties of Laos, their improvement, culti-vation, processing and consumption", Chapter for proposed FAO publication, Speciality Rices in the World: breeding, production and marketing, FAO, Rome.
· Gaia/GRAIN (2000), "Biodiversity for Sale: Dismantling the hype about benefit sharing", Global Trade & Biodiversity in Conflict, no. 4. GRAIN, Barcelona.
· NAFRI et al (2000), Rice Varieties Recom-mendations for the Wet-season Lowland Environment of the Lao PDR, National Agri-culture and Forestry Institute, National Rice Research Program and Lao-IRRI project.
· Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (2000), Government's Strategic Vision for the Agri-cultural Sector, Lao PDR, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
· IUCN (2000), The role of Forest Food Resources in Village Livelihood Systems - A study of three villages in Salavan province, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland.
· STEA (2000), National Environmental Action Plan, Prime Minister's Office, Science, Technology and Environment Agency, Lao PDR.
· ICBG website:

Reference for this article: Delforge I, 2001, Laos at the Crossroads, Seedling, Volume 18, Issue 2, June 2001, GRAIN Publications

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Author: Isabelle Delforge