Lessons from the Critical Years of Agricultural Development in the Lower Mekong Basin

Jeffrey A. MCNEELY, Chief Scientist of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and Willem VAN LIERE launch a new book: Agriculture in the Lower Mekong Basin –Experience from the Critical Decade of 1965-1975

Bangkok, Thailand, 31 October 2005 (IUCN) – A new IUCN book describes agricultural development and natural resource management in the Lower Mekong Basin in the early days of the region’s development. Why is it still relevant today? “In reviewing our work from several decades ago under the Mekong Committee’s Agriculture Programme, we were intrigued by how many of the basic ideas developed in those days remain topical today”, Jeff McNeely, Chief Scientist of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), said while launching the publication today in Bangkok.

Initiatives such as involving farmers as part of the agricultural research team, diversifying crops on farms, considering individual farms as part of a larger landscape, the importance of wild species in contributing to rural livelihoods, and the role of protected areas in contributing to the welfare of rural people, all continue to be high priorities on the sustainable development agenda.

However, many challenges remain. This historical reflection also aims to stimulate provocative ideas on what sustainable agriculture should be. Poverty remains a stark reality for many farmers, and globalization is offering new hurdles. How is the balance of power and welfare between urban and rural people going to be resolved? What role will biotechnology play? While the new protected area systems in the Lower Mekong Basin look excellent on a map, the reality on the ground still leaves much to be desired.

New ways to address the root causes of wetland degradation

The Lower Mekong Basin remains a special place for Southeast Asia. A diverse landscape united by one of the world’s great rivers. Home to some of the world’s most fascinating civilizations, it supports forests where amazing new species of wildlife are still being discovered, and offers a richness of opportunities to the farmers who are constantly seeking new ways to earn a living from the soil.

To address the root causes of wetland degradation, the four riparian governments of the Lower Mekong Basin (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam) are running a 30 million US$ project, jointly managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Mekong River Commission (MRC). The project involves community-based natural resource management of wetlands and aims at strengthening the policy framework.

The new IUCN publication is available free of charge for agriculture colleges, extension and research centers and water and wetlands practitioners in the region. “We hope that developing agriculture in ways that also conserve natural resources will enable the rich cultures of the Basin to live in peace, harmony, and well-being”, concluded Jeff McNeely.

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