There’s a bright future for the youth in agriculture.
This perhaps best captures how Mr. Bounyoung Thavisouk, the 31-year old director of Saybua Rice Mill in Khammouane, Lao PDR, feels about the younger generation’s place in agriculture.
In many agricultural economies, the waning interest in farming among the youth is a common concern, even in a country like Lao PDR where a big portion of the economic activity revolves around agriculture. Poverty and the uncertainty of a bright future in farming are driving children of farmers in the countryside to seek better opportunities in cities and urban areas. Yet, Bounyoung was one of the few who chose to stay put.
In 2014, armed with an undergraduate degree in economics, Bounyoung joined their family-run rice milling business with the objective of turning it into a thriving operation. “I saw the opportunities for our rice mill,” he shares of the reason why he decided not to follow the path of other peers who were looking into white-collar jobs, choosing instead to work for the business that his parents established. According to Bounyoung, it is common for parents to encourage their children to seek better employment opportunities than work for the family business. But for individuals like him, the decision is as much a desire to continue what the family has built as it is faith in what the business can achieve.
With this optimism and determination to fully maximize the high market potential of milled rice, Bounyoung became one of the active participants in the many various activities of the RLED-EWEC Project in Khammouane. A member since 2016, he explains that he wanted to gain more know-how as well as support from the Project on how he can upgrade their milling standards and promote high quality rice production. Such technical knowledge is particularly crucial in his case – a young entrepreneur in the rice milling industry.
“One of the major challenges is establishing your credibility because people tend to think you know less compared to the older entrepreneurs,” he explains. Bounyoung saw the opportunity that the EWEC Project offered to address this. He joined several MI-sponsored training courses such as those on Good Manufacturing Practices; branding and marketing development; organization management; and cluster development; as well as agri-related events sponsored by the government.
Partaking in these activities highlighted to him the critical relationship between farmers and rice millers, input supplies and output (paddy collection). “Quality rice production is important to the rice milling industry,” he observes. Because of this, he also started working with the Project’s smallholder farmers. Adopting the Project’s tripartite business model, Bounyoung serves as a secure market for seed-producing groups and at the same time, a source of high quality, certified rice to farmers who are cultivating rice following Good Agricultural Practices standards, who in turn supply him with quality paddy supply.
Among rice millers in the province, Bounyoung is also a popular name. As Vice-Chairperson of the Khammouane Development Cooperative, he leads the members and supports their participation in various market linkage events such as agri fairs and food expos. This opportunity to interact and work with senior rice millers, he says, is also an excellent way to learn from their experiences while at the same time, sharing with them his own passion and knowledge, thereby also cementing his credibility as an entrepreneur.
It is this passion and the eagerness to learn new things, along with a clear focus to achieve his goals that Bounyoung considers to be important traits of a rice milling entrepreneur. In order to succeed, one must make the effort to master the nature of the business, study the market structure while remaining humble and open to the advice of experts who have been in the business far longer than him.
Bounyoung is both example and inspiration to the youth in Lao PDR that a bright future in agriculture is possible. In a country with one of the high proportions of young people in Asia, the promotion of agricultural entrepreneurship among the youth is an integral, necessary task.
Bounyoung’s work with the EWEC Project in Khammouane also stands witness to the Project and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s commitment to promote sustainable development by engaging young men and women and building their skills and capacities. Such initiative also aligns with the broad goals of Lao PDR’s National Social Economic Development Plan by promoting the active involvement of the youth in development work, more particularly in the agricultural sector.