Capacity-building and alternative realities:
Some observations on the political context of technical assistance in Lao PDR

Report for the Laos Extension for Agriculture Project (LEAP)
Andrew Bartlett, 04 April 2013

The Laos Extension for Agriculture Project (LEAP) is funded by the Swiss Agency
for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and has been implemented by the National
Agriculture and Forestry Extension Service (NAFES), with technical assistance from
Helvetas, a Swiss NGO. LEAP started in 2001 and is now in its 5th and final phase,
which is due to be completed early in 2014. As the project nears its end, the
management team has embarked on a process of identifying the lessons learned
over the past 12 years that will inform future decisions by the Ministry of Forestry and
Agriculture (MAF), the donors and implementing partners. This process involves a
series of studies and meetings that will generate a number of reports, fact-sheets
and videos. What follows is one contribution to this process of reflection and
In summary, this author has observed that NAFES, like all government
organisations in Laos, consists of two ‘realities’, the technical and the political. The
relationship between these realities is like the two sides of a coin, or parallel
universes. Government staff inhabit both realities, but projects like LEAP are only
designed to address problems and opportunities in the technical reality. The
success or failure of efforts by technical advisers to build capacity within NAFES has
been affected - both positively and negatively - by the degree to which these efforts
are consistent with what happens within the political reality. And what happens
within political reality is, from the perspective of the advisers, largely unknown and
unpredictable. This situation represents a huge constraint to capacity-building of the
kind normally associated with agricultural extension projects. But if we reorient our
understanding of capacity-building, giving more attention to the interests of rural
communities and less to government bureaucracy, the experience of LEAP suggests
that political space for farmer empowerment does exist in some parts of Laos.
These are personal observations by one of the technical advisers to LEAP. They
do not necessarily reflect the views of SDC or Helvetas. It is not the intention of the
author to pass judgement on the political system in Laos, rather the purpose is to
describe the institutional content of LEAP in a manner that may help the reader
understand why some aspects of the project have succeeded and others have not.
Foreign advisers are often discouraged from writing or talking (or even thinking)
about the political system, but this author believes that technical assistance projects
and programmes will be far more effective if advisers have a better understanding of
how that system affects our work.

Since 2001, six project documents
have been prepared for LEAP, all of which
have the same goal:
To support the development of a decentralised, participatory, pluralistic and
sustainable agricultural extension system that reaches male and female farmers
Although this goal makes reference to a ‘pluralistic’ extension system, the project
has focussed its efforts on NAFES throughout more than a decade of
implementation. Limited collaboration with civil society organisations started in
Phase III, and engagement with rice millers became a significant activity in the later
half of Phase IV, but the bulk of the project’s resources have been directed at
improving the effectiveness of the Government extension service.
An examination of the LEAP project documents shows that the terms ‘capacity
building’, ‘institutional strengthening’ and ‘organisational development’ appear more
frequently than ‘agricultural extension’. For the purpose of these observations, the
term capacity-building will be used to describe the efforts of the project to support
both organisational development (OD) and human resources development (HRD).
The purpose of capacity-building in LEAP has been to create a government
extension service that is both effective and sustainable.
The elements of extension capacity that have been addressed by LEAP include
the following:
• Extension policy, strategies and mandates
• Internal management structures and procedures
• Coordination mechanisms (eg. with research)
• Staff knowledge and skills
• Facilities and equipment
• Extension approaches and methods
• Information services and materials
• Operating budgets
It is important to note that what LEAP has been doing in Laos is completely
normal in the field of agricultural extension. Across the world, hundreds of projects
have focussed on building the capacity of government departments. Much of what
has been achieved in other countries has not been sustained in the absence of
support from foreign donors.
In Laos, however, the problem is not that a
government extension system has been created which cannot be sustained. The
problem is that a fully functioning system has yet to be created, and there are
reasons to doubt that it ever will be.

Success and failure
Over the past 10 years there have been 19 meetings of the project Steering
Committee and three external reviews. These events have provided plenty of
opportunity to identify where the project has succeeded, and where it has fallen short
of expectations. Here are some examples:
Extension strategy: In 2005, the project produced a description of the ‘Lao
Extension Approach’ (LEA) based on a sequence of activities that had been piloted
during Phase I. The LEA was soon approved by MAF and was subsequently
promoted as a ‘best practice’ by the Ministry. The adoption of the LEA is
undoubtedly a success at the policy level, but this has not always been matched at
the level of implementation. Other projects have been reluctant to use the approach,
and - even within LEAP - adherence to the principles and procedures of the LEA
have often fallen short of the desired standard.
Organisational structures: Since the beginning of the project, LEAP has operated
at a number of levels. In addition to building capacity at NAFES, project activities
have been carried out in all 17 Provinces and a total of 39 Districts. In each location,
teams of staff have been trained, provided with equipment, and given operating
budgets. While these inputs have produced short-term improvements in extension
delivery that have benefited thousands of farmers,
most of the teams created under
LEAP are no longer functional. This is due - in part - to the fact that MAF has re-
organised the extension service five times during the life of the project and most of
the field staff trained by the project have been re-assigned more than once.
Human resources: At the national level, the project has been more successful in
keeping a team together. The current National Project Director has been with the
project since the beginning, and the sustained commitment and ability of this
individual has been crucial to the success of the project. Additionally, the technical
advisers have been able to work with the same group of 7 people (known as
) for more than 10 years. The uncomfortable truth, however, is that this
cooperation has not produced a level of technical or methodological expertise that is
comparable to what may be found in other countries. A major constraint has been
the reluctance of NAFES to establish clear job descriptions, performance criteria and
a system for professional advancement. Additionally, there is still no plan for the
establishment of an in-service training centre or programme of the kind that exists in
the extension departments elsewhere in the world.
Management systems: Over the past decade, the project has made a number of
attempts to introduce and institutionalise improved methods for planning, monitoring
and financial management. In carrying out this work, there has been a concerted
effort to apply the principles of ownership, harmonisation, and alignment.

Nevertheless, there has been very limited impact on the procedures used by NAFES
beyond the immediate scope of the project. For example, the provision and training
and equipment for an M&E unit has produced no visible results, and the consultant
working on this issue was withdrawn after NAFES complained he was spending too
much time trying how to figure out how the government system worked.
Information services and materials: LEAP has a reputation for producing a large
quantity of training materials, including manuals, leaflets, posters, videos. These
materials have been distributed across the country in the form of a ‘wisdom bag’, and
the project activities have often featured on radio and television. In addition, the
project has set up a number of new services, including a system for sending text
messages to the mobile phones of field workers, and online discussion groups for
the broader development community. It is unclear if and how new materials will be
produced, and services maintained, once the project comes to an end, but there is
no doubt that these things have been widely appreciated.

A project in two worlds
In order to understand why some project activities have been more effective than
others, we need to realise that NAFES - and its successor, the Department of
Agricultural Extension and Cooperatives (DAEC) - consists of two parallel
organisations which represent alternative realities: a technical organisation and a
political organisation.
Visitors to Laos have often noted how difficult it is to get their hands on an
accurate organogram. Although diagrams are sometimes available, showing how a
Government Department is arranged into Divisions and Sections, these charts rarely
reflect the actually disposition of staff and the functions they are performing. This is
partly due to effect of aid projects, which are not fully aligned to Government
structures, but it is also because key officials belong to a political organisation that
takes precedence over the technical one.
At the current time, DAEC has a staff of approximately 190, of which 130 are
fully-fledged government employees while the other 60 are contract staff, trainees or
volunteers. Approximately half of the government employees are members of the
Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, and the hierarchy among them does not fully
match that shown in the technical organogram. Significantly, membership of the
Party Committee at DAEC - consisting of 5 or 6 people elected every 3 years by the
Party members - does not include all of the Deputy Director Generals. Instead, the
Party Committee often includes Divisional Directors and even Deputy-Directors.
While the technical organisation appears to have weak procedures for planning
and monitoring, the political organisation has a well-defined pattern of meetings,
reports and inspections. And while the technical organisation lacks a clear set of job
descriptions, performance criteria and a system for professional advancement, the
party has a rigorous process for training and selecting members who may rise up the
organisation according to it’s own conventions and criteria. To an outsider, such as
a foreign adviser, a government organisation like NAFES may appear to have a split
personality: chaotic and inefficient for long periods, yet capable of pulling off amazing
feats of coordination and concentrated effort when the need arises. To an insider,
such as a member of the Party, the effectiveness of the organisation probably looks
very different, and foreign proposals for capacity-building may be viewed as
The existence of these alternative realities may explain many of the things that
have puzzled the technical advisers at LEAP over the years: why some members of
staff can get things done and others can’t, the lack of success in creating a M&E
system, and the low level of ambition with regard to technical competence.
The biggest outcome of LEAP over the past decade has been the Lao Extension
Approach, a participatory approach to training farmers that has been introduced in all
17 Provinces of the country. The success of the LEA, certainly its adoption as part of
the MAF strategy for the sector, can partly be explained by the fact that this is
consistent with the Party’s vision of economic reform. While the technical advisers
have been focussing on the knowledge and skills that farmers can acquire by joining
learning groups, the Party may be equally interested in the control over the rural
economy that comes from creating thousands of production groups.
While the
advisers have written about participation, inclusiveness and bargaining-power, the
leadership of MAF has been more inclined to speak about commodities, markets and
public-private partnerships. These alternative visions of farmer organisations have
come to light in a number of studies carried out by LEAP for the Sub-Sector Working
Group on Agribusiness,
and it remains to be seen whether most farmer
organisations will end up being ‘self-determined, voluntary and independent’ as
proposed in the Sector Strategy
As noted earlier, LEAP has also been successful in producing a wide range of
information materials and services. How has this been possible? The parlous nature
of mass media in Laos, and the lack of transparency that surrounds major
investment projects, makes it surprising that a relatively small project has been able
to distribute packages of information to every District in the country. This appears to
contradict foreign assumptions about the secretive nature of the political system. The
explanation could be that the Ministry of Agriculture sees information services as a
means of extending its authority. Efforts to ‘recentralise’ the Government are high on
the agenda of the Party at the current time. Like other Ministries, MAF has been
struggling to influence what is happening in the field. The materials disseminated
through the ‘wisdom bag’ are helping to standardise the technical information
received by farmers across the country, and services like the phone messages that
are sent to 1,000 field workers every week are conveniently bypassing Governors
and Directors at the Provincial and District level. Most of these materials and
services promote the idea of ‘farmer’ choice’ and – as such - they can be seen as a
nationally-endorsed antidote to the more autocratic approaches to agricultural
development being pursued by some local officials.

Different visions of public administration
Elsewhere in Asia, capacity-building projects that aim to strengthen government
extension services have been applying the precepts of modern public administration
with varying degrees of success. Although most agricultural advisers have never
heard of Max Weber, they have been helping to create bureaucratic organisations of
the kind that were described by this German sociologist and economist almost a
century ago. The features of a Weberian bureaucracy include a formal hierarchy,
functional speciality, management by rules, and employment based on technical
qualifications. Nowadays, the term ‘bureaucratic’ often has negative connotations,
used to describe an organisation that has become bogged down in official
regulations and procedures, but the positive view of bureaucracy is that it makes use
of rational-legal authority and is therefore free from personal and political influence.
In theory at least, a bureaucracy is supposed to operate like an administrative
machine, routinely producing the same results regardless of who is in charge.
The prospects for capacity-building at the national level in Laos are severely
limited by the fact that the Government does not operate as a Weberian
bureaucracy. Despite efforts to reform the public administration, promote good
governance and expand the rule of law, the Party continues to be the preeminent
source of authority and there are no signs of an impending separation between the
political and technical structures. While the 1991 Constitution marked the beginning
of a transition from direct administration by the Party towards a modern state, the
2003 Constitution reaffirmed that all branches of government are subordinate to the
Party, with the Politburo is the highest authority of the Party.
Even now, the
implementation of Politburo resolutions takes precedence over strategies and plans
produced at the Ministerial level.
In a previous report, this author drew attention to the how the leadership of the
Party affects public administration in Laos, noting “while continuity and consistency
may be important to planners and managers of development programmes and
projects, they can be a constraint to revolutionary leaders”.
Rather than build
stable structures that provide reliable services, the Government of Laos continues to
operate as a organisation engaged in a revolutionary struggle. Policies take the form
of sweeping directives and ambitious targets, which are implemented through
campaigns managed by Party members. These campaigns require the urgent
mobilization of human and financial resources from wherever they are available,
something that can be very disruptive from the perspective of technical assistance
projects like LEAP.
A good example of this type of disruption was the policy to develop village
clusters (kumban pattana). Although the Party decree on village clusters was issued
in 2004, it took on greater significance in 2007 when all projects in the agriculture
sector were suddenly expected to support the establishment of service centres at the
kumban level. There is a plausible reason for establishing kumban service centres -
which bring extension staff closer to farmers - but the Party instructions regarding
kumban pattana make it clear that the primary objective was to strengthen the
political system.
Unlike some projects, LEAP did not fund the construction of any
service centres. Nevertheless, a 6-month ‘alignment phase’ was carried out to
ensure that the capacity-building efforts of LEAP were consistent with the new
organisational structure that had been announced by MAF. By mid 2008, a re-
designed Phase IV got under way, and almost immediately the Ministry announced
that the structure of the extension service would change again! back to what it was
a year earlier. Meanwhile, other projects were building service centres across the
country with no clear idea of how they would be used or who would pay for their
The latest policy of the Party that requires ‘alignment’ from projects in the
agriculture sector goes by the name of ‘Sam Sang’, which translates into ‘three
. The Politburo resolution that provides the basis for the new policy was
issued in February 2012 and, although there is still some confusion about how this
should be interpreted and implemented, it appears to require a wide-ranging reforms
to public administration with the aim of strengthening central control over economic
and social development.
As with the policy on kumban pattana, Sam Sang
involves urgent action to implement activities in hundreds of locations across the
country. Party members from the central level are being sent to the field to
supervise these activities, regardless of their normal technical responsibilities.
Foreign donors are expected to support the Sam Sang policy, and projects in the
agriculture sector are already contributing to the costs of implementation. Technical
advisers are re-writing work plans and amending budgets to meet the demands of
political leaders. In the eyes of the donors, efforts to build government capacity for
routine service delivery may have to be postponed. In the eyes of Party leaders,
however, Sam Sang is implementing their own form of capacity-building, by
consolidating control over national development.
LEAP is still on-going, but further evidence of a lack of political support for the
type of capacity-building promoted by donor agencies can be found by looking at
completed projects. As noted earlier, the problem of sustainability affects agricultural
development programmes across the world. Even so, Laos appears to be an
extreme case, with organisational structures that took a decade to establish being
dismantled within months of projects coming to an end.
To take one example, the Government of Sweden supported capacity-building for
agricultural research in Laos between 2002 and 2012.
A major achievement was
the establishment of the Centre for Agricultural and Forestry Research Information
(CAFRI) as the apex of the agricultural knowledge system in Laos. CAFRI was an
important collaborator in a number of LEAP activities, but immediately after the
Swedish assistance came to an end, the Centre was absorbed into another unit,
stripped of staff, and the physical assets left to decay. To some observers, it would
appear that organisations such as CAFRI are little more than mechanisms for
absorbing foreign aid, and they have no further purpose once the projects that
created them come to an end.

Extension as Patronage
In March 2013, this author travelled to eight of the Districts where LEAP has
carried out activities at some time during the past 12 years. In all locations, from
Sanxai District in Attapeu to Meung District in Bokeo, extension staff mentioned that
a major weakness of the project was the lack of inputs for farmers. They pointed out
that almost all other projects - regardless of whether they are funded by international
development banks, bilateral donors or NGOs - provide ‘incentives’ to farmers in the
form of infrastructure or credit, livestock or seed.
In most locations, it was also clear that farmers expected to get inputs and some
were not interested in simply attending training. Nevertheless, practical training has
been conducted in all of these Districts with the participation of thousands of farmers.
Those who were interviewed could still remember the details of the training, and
some were still applying the techniques they had learnt. In a few Districts, like
Toumlan in Saravan or Namo in Oudomxay, farmer groups were still holding
meetings and seeking advice from the DAFO! without receiving incentives. So, is it
really necessary for extension staff to provide inputs to farmers?
In an earlier report for SDC, I suggested that neo-patrimonialism was a key
political mechanism in Laos. This involves the use of state authority and apparatus to
sustain a system of patronage. I also said that the appointment of Village Heads
represents the furthest reach of the patronage system, ‘beyond which there is
nothing to be gained from farmers’.
However, the issue of inputs for farmers
indicates this may not be completely true. Could it be the case that extension
activities, in the form they have been supported by most donors, are the furthest
reaches of the patronage system?
For most government field staff and many farmers, extension involves a kind of
social contract, in which both parties get something. So, for example, the field worker
promises certain inputs and the ‘clients’ agree to plant a certain crop. In other cases,
the official arranges for a road to be constructed, in return for which the villagers
agree to sell their goods to a particular trader. Clearly, extension workers feel more
confident, more capable of achieving their objectives, when they have gifts to bestow
on farmers. These inputs help them to buy compliance. The paternalistic nature of
these arrangements may help to explain why some villages benefit from one project
after another, and some ‘motivated’ households benefit from more than one project
at a time. It may also be significant that some of these extension activities create
debts that cement the patron-client relationship.
If it is true that extension activities have been part of the political patronage
system in Laos, then it is not surprising that the changes introduced by LEAP are
often unwelcome at the District level. The Lao Extension Approach involves a
radically different relationship between government officials and rural people. The
social contract has been rewritten. Imagine the difficulty faced by a field worker who
goes empty-handed to a village and announces that farmers will be able to make
their own decisions about what to produce. It would not be surprising if some of the
‘clients’ wondered why the extension worker had bothered to visit them.
The fact that – in some Districts at least – these difficulties have been overcome,
that field staff have established a new role for themselves, and farmers have become
development partners rather than clients, suggests that further support for LEA
implementation is warranted. It is not always clear what the Party officials are getting
out of this, but rural communities appear to be benefitting. What appears to be
needed is not more inputs, but a greater commitment to participatory development
by the local authorities. Donors can provide incentives for compliance, but they
cannot buy farmer empowerment.

Reorienting capacity-building
The alternative realities described above do not explain all cases of success and
failure in LEAP, but there are there are sufficient examples to conclude that
technical-political interactions deserve serious attention by the donors and
implementing partners.
In any country, development projects operate in a political context. In Laos,
however, the relationship between the Party and the executive branches of
Government is particularly strong. Consequently, it is unavoidable that the success
of technical assistance projects such as LEAP will be affected by what happens in
the alternative reality of Party committees and resolutions. Sometimes that
alternative world will expedite the implementation of certain project activities,
particularly those that reinforce Party networks, but it will also act as a constraint to
building the capacity of public services that are relevant, efficient and sustainable.
Sectoral policies and organisational structures will continue to come and go with
unexplained urgency and bewildering abruptness, undermining external efforts to
build a better bureaucracy.
Is this a problem? Do Lao farmers need a better bureaucracy? In an earlier
paper, this author suggested that farmers would be better served by an ‘adhocracy’
rather than a bureaucracy.
Perhaps agricultural extension is different from other
government services, such as primary education or health care, and farmers do not
need a permanent state-run organisation to take care of their needs. An adhocracy
is characterised by structures that are temporary or ‘organic’, and methods that are
flexible and ‘demand-driven’. To some extent, it seems that MAF is already
operating as an adhocracy, but it is responding to the demands of political leaders
rather than those of rural communities.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. The problem we face is not the dilemma
of bureaucracy versus adhocracy, but an issue of accountability. Whatever form
agricultural extension organisations take, the question we need to ask is whose
interests are they serving? If we are building capacity, then we need to ask whose
In response to the difficulties of building effective and sustainable capacity within
the government, foreign donors in Laos are increasing looking towards civil society
or the private sector to provide services to farmers. LEAP has been working with a
variety of ‘non-state actors’ since 2007 with some degree of success, although
questions about the relevance, efficiency and sustainability of service-provision apply
to CSOs and companies no less than to the Government.
The biggest question,
however, is still one of accountability. While we may expect civil society
organisations and the private sector to be less influenced by political concerns, there
are other interests - commercial and personal - that affect how these organisations
interact with their clients in rural areas. Plus we should not underestimate the extent
to which the Party is deeply embedded in Lao society; regardless of their legal
status, all organisations need the approval of local political leaders in order to
Returning to the question whose capacity? the answer is not ‘Non-Profit
Associations’, or ‘rice millers’ and other non-state actors. Just like the Government,
these organisations should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself. The
end – surely - is to develop the capacity of rural communities.
Clearly there are opportunities for making extension services more pluralistic, but
is this sufficient to ensure these services are more responsive to the needs of
farming households? The experience of LEAP suggests that pluralism is only part of
the answer. It is also necessary to bring capacity-building efforts closer to the
communities that are supposed to benefit from this assistance. Regardless of the
good intentions of stakeholders at the national level, it is almost impossible to
establish mechanisms that will make them truly responsive to local needs. The
same can be said about capacity-building at the Provincial level, where the
achievements of LEAP have been very limited. But at the District level the project
has been involved in a number of success stories.
The experience of working in Khoun District of Xieng Khouang offers important
lessons in capacity-building at the local level. Here are some indicators of the
capacity of rural communities that has been built over the past few years.
Indicators of capacity of rural communities:
• community members have prepared their own livelihood plans
• they are pulling in services from multiple sources of advice and inputs
• they are making informed choices about production and marketing
• they are engaged in collective action that gives them better bargaining power
• they are carrying out farmer-to-farmer training
• they are managing small infrastructure improvements
• they are speaking out, in official meetings and on radio
Note that this list of indicators does not say ‘farmer organisations have been
established’. Although new farmer groups have been created in Khoun, and they
have registered as an Association, it is the self-determined behaviour of the group
members that is significant, rather than the existence of the organisation itself.
How was this achieved? The experience in Khoun suggests that the following
factors are important:
Factors that contributed to community capacity-building
• supportive local leadership: political space to apply a pluralistic / democratic
• integrated planning and management from donor: at least 3 over-lapping
projects in same District
• activities carried out by many stakeholders: public, private and civil society
• diversity of technical content: not just one commodity, one methodology
• social inclusiveness: strong women’s involvement, and ethnic diversity
Note that this list of factors does not say ‘DAFO staff trained in participatory
methods’. Although such training did take place, it is the context in which the training
takes place and methods subsequently applied that makes all the difference to
whether this helps build community capacity.
At both the community level, and the level of local government, capacity exists
among a network of actors, rather than in a single organisation. Consequently,
capacity-building is more about creating or strengthening connections than
establishing formal structures.

Project activities in Khoun have not attempted to bypass the influence of the
Party. It would have been foolish to even consider doing that. Government staff -
particularly two women technicians at DAFO - have been involved since the
beginning and have made a major contribution to the success of these efforts. The
backing from the District Governor has also been crucial, while one official at PAFO
has provided consistent support. But the goal in Khoun has not been to strengthen
the government bureaucracy; activities have been focussed on empowering farmers,
and there are indications that this is being achieved.
Not all Districts are like Khoun. There are many other parts of the country where
the ‘political space’ is not conducive to farmer empowerment. Rather than trying to
swim against the tide, donors may want to avoid working in those Districts where
activities are likely to be misdirected and the benefits captured by other actors. But
Khoun is not unique. There are other Districts where the local Party leadership is
open to a pluralistic and democratic approach. The challenge is to identify those
locations, and build networks of actors that are supporting capacity building with rural
Since 2010, LEAP has attempted to apply the lessons from Khoun in four other
‘hotspots’ in the northern uplands: Namo, Nambac, Bounneua and Xiengkhor. In
each location, the basic Lao Extension Approach has been supplemented with other
activities known as ‘LEA plus’.
An assessment of this modified approach will be
completed in the next few months, but it is already clear that progress has been
uneven. A comparison between the five locations should provide the project
partners with a better understanding of the factors affecting success. This author
predicts that ‘political space’ will be one of those factors.

These observations aim to stimulate further discussion rather than provide a
definitive assessment of what has happened in the Laos Extension for Agriculture
Project. Any conclusions about the success of the project’s capacity-building efforts
will depend on who is making the assessment. From the technical perspective of the
donor, influenced by a Weberian concept of a modern public administration, the
project may appear to have failed. But from the political perspective of the
Government, looking to enhance control of social and economic development across
the country, the project has been far more successful. And from the perspective of
small farmers we have a mixed picture: large numbers have learnt techniques that
improve their productivity, but far fewer have started to engage in collective action
that gives them greater influence over the direction of development in their

Different Perspectives on Capacity-Building
1. The western donor perspective
Extension capacity exists in the form of sustainable structures and functions that
provide efficient and reliable services.
LEAP has largely failed from this perspective.
After 12 years of the project, structures and staffing are not stable, functional
capacity (eg. planning and monitoring) is weak, and the Government has not
allocated funds to sustain routine extension activities.
2. The Lao Government perspective
Extension capacity exists in the form of a policy framework (decrees, strategies,
plans), a pool of physical and human resources, and committed leadership
LEAP has largely succeeded from this perspective.
After 12 years of the project, the Lao Extension Approach has been widely
accepted, NAFES has survived to become DAEC, and the methods and materials
produced by the project are being used by various donor projects and political
campaigns (eg. Sam Sang)
3. The rural community perspective
Development capacity exists when villagers are able to make informed choices,
have improved bargaining power, and are carrying out collective action to achieve
their own plans.
LEAP has mixed success from this perspective.
After 12 years of LEAP, the project has proved that capacity-building of this kind
is possible, but it needs a conducive environment (eg. supportive local leadership
and partnerships with other service providers) and may take at least 5 years of


1 This includes two documents for Phase III, one of which was discarded.
2 Andrew Bartlett (2010) An introduction to real-world extension. Rural Development News,
3 Juergen Piechotta, (2009 & 2010) Report on the findingds from the Impact Study. LEAP
4 CETDU = The Central Extension Training and Development Unit. This is no longer part of the
official structure of the Department, but the name is still used as an informal designation for the
team working with LEAP.
5 Peter Schmidt (2009) Aid Effectiveness in Agricultural Extension’. LEAP
6 The meanings of key terms used in project documents is often quite different in the English and
Lao versions, reflecting the fact that the English audience is largely technical, which the Lao
audience is more political.
7 For example: Rita Gebert (2010) Farmer Bargaining Power in the Lao PDR: Possibilities and
Pitfalls. LEAP
8 The Agricultural Development Strategy (2011 to 2020), and Agricultural Master Plan (2011 "
2015) were drafted with the assistance of a foreign technical adviser and widely distributed by
MAF. Most foreign observers understood that these documents had been approved, but recent
discussions suggest that the ‘drafts’ will now be revised to take account of the Party Resolution
on ‘Sam Sang’.
9 Richard Slater and Khamlouang Keoka (2012) Trends in the Governance Sector of Lao PDR.
10 Andrew Bartlett (2012) Trends in the Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Sectors of
the Lao PDR. SDC
11 Joost Foppes (2008) Agricultural and Forestry Development at ‘Kum Ban’ Village Cluster Level.
12 According to an article in the Pasaxon newspaper of 13 September 2012, the Sam Sang
(!"#!$"% or three builds) are to build: 1) the Province as the main unit for strategy (!"#$
!"#$%&'%$('))*+,-./+); 2) the District as the main unit for..."comprehensive strength"
(!"#$%!&'()*+)(,+-!.'/"0.%1$23/4(; and 3) the Village as the main unit for development
13 The author explored the aim of the Sam Sang policy in a message posted to the LaoFAB forum
on 30 March 2013 under the heading Observations on ‘Sam Sang’
14 The Lao-Swedish Upland Agriculture and Forestry Research Programme (LSUAFRP) 2002 -
2007, followed by Upland Research and Capacity Development Programme (URDP) 2007 "
15 Andrew Bartlett (2012) Trends in the Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Sectors of
the Lao PDR. SDC
16 Andrew Bartlett (2010) An introduction to real-world extension. Rural Development News,
17 Michael Jones (2012) Non-State Actors in Agriculture Extension: Farmers Accessing Services in
18 For more information about what has happened in Khoun District, see: Andrew Bartlett (2010)
Making Connections: agricultural extension in Northern Laos. LEAP
19 Lao Extension Approach: Guidelines for Participatory Extension Planning and Results Based
Monitoring and Evaluation (2012). LEAP