“How should the Mekong Institute (MI) work with Lao PDR in order to address its most pressing food safety needs?”
This is the question representatives from the Mekong Institute (MI), including the Agricultural Development and Commercialization (ADC) Department’s Director Ms. Maria Theresa S. Medialdia, aimed to answer when they met with key food safety stakeholders in Vientiane, Lao PDR last June 8-9, 2016.
This country visit is part of the Mekong Institute’s Food Safety Project (MI-FSP), a New Zealand Aid Programme (NZAP)-funded initiative which aims for “policy makers in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam (CLMV) responsible for developing and implementing food safety regulations to create an enabling food regulatory environment connected to private sector, their needs and market aspirations.”
Various mid-level to senior level government officials, including those from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), Ministry of Health (MoH), Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) were met by the MI representatives separately during the two-day country visit to discuss ways of implementing capacity development activities that will address the special food safety needs of Lao PDR.
Other objectives of the trip include: to introduce MI and MI-FSP to key stakeholders and potential partners, and establish an initial relationship with them; to identify appropriate country focal point and seek for their commitment; to validate and update FS status in each country; and to identify country priority in promoting FS.
During the discussions with the key government officials, MI’s trip objectives were met, as the institute’s initial desk research about the food safety situation in Lao PDR was validated. Other issues and points for discussion that arose during the meeting were the Lao PDR’s food safety priority crop, the private sectors whom MI should engage with, the country’s food safety priority needs, and MI’s potential focal point in Lao PDR for this project.
In one of the meetings, Mr. Thavisith Bounyasouk, Deputy Director of the Standard Division, Department of Agriculture under the MAF, emphasized the need to improve implementation of food safety laws and regulations at all levels. “We have existing regulations, but the problem is with the implementation… Future initiatives should then be aimed towards improving implementation schemes,” he said.
Mr. Bounyasouk likewise discussed about other challenges such as lack of equipment, budget, and consumer awareness, as well as possible ways to address them. He added that whichever area MI chooses to focus on, their department would be willing to lend a hand.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sivong Sengaloundeth, Deputy Director General of the Food and Drug Department (FDD) under the MOH, expressed his gratitude to MI for highlighting the importance of food safety in its current initiatives. He said he is glad that MI is bringing this issue to light especially in the dawn of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), where opportunities for product exportation and access to international markets are at its peak.
The country visit to Lao PDR is only the first among the four scheduled country visits in CLMV for the MI-FSP, which would be followed by Cambodia, Vietnam then Myanmar, respectively.