PRAM Laos: Information by and for poverty reduction programme volunteers

About PRAM

Developing a model for reducing poverty by accelerating the professional development of the Lao Government’s community-level staff

The Poverty Reduction and Agricultural Management Initiative (PRAM) is an innovative educational program designed to empower government officials at the local level with the tools necessary to reduce poverty in their districts. It is focused on poverty reduction as its primary goal and measurement of success. Numerous rural development initiatives in Laos have identified the weak capacity of Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) officials as a primary constraint on development. Meanwhile, as internationally assisted projects come and go, these officials often receive repetitive training in the same subject area as training regimes have not been properly tailored to the particular needs of individual students. PRAM is designed to solve these problems. The PRAM curriculum is strategically designed to make the most effective use of training time by recognizing that, rather than solving problems for people, training people to solve problems is a far more effective and empowering long term strategy. That is what PRAM endeavours to do.

The Poverty Reduction and Agricultural Management Initiative (PRAM) emerged from a recent  collaboration in the Mekong region for poverty reduction called the Wetlands Alliance (see below for a brief overview of the Wetlands Alliance). Focusing mainly on the Mekong region, the Alliance aims to develop a common framework for its members to work together more effectively to build local capacity for poverty-focused development.

The PRAM Initiative has been designed to assist the Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) to implement programs aimed at reducing poverty and improving food security. The initiative recognizes the importance of support from the international community and therefore also aims to assist the Ministry to work more effectively in securing and sustaining international partnerships for poverty reduction.

Most rural development initiatives in Laos aimed at poverty reduction identify the weak capacity of MAF staff, especially at the local level (District/Technical Service Center [TSC]), as a main constraint to more effective rural development. Consequently, these development initiatives usually include capacity-building for local government staff as a central component of their implementation. This is generally laudable as a tangible expression of a collective will to make poverty reduction initiatives “sustainable”. However, the resultant on-the-job training, training workshops or short-courses are mainly driven by the immediate needs of a particular project or program. There is thus usually little consideration of the longer-term needs of local development agency staff and the strategic fit of training initiatives into a broader human resources development plan or professional development scheme. The result is that many local development staff after many years of “training”, are only proficient in relatively specialist fields, and due to critical gaps in their education and training they lack the ability to develop solutions to new problems. In some cases they find themselves repeatedly trained in the same subject (e.g. Participatory Rural Appraisal methods), as internationally assisted projects come and go.

A more strategic approach to building capacity of local development agency staff working at the community level is required. Such a strategy must make more effective use of international support and partnership opportunities for poverty reduction. It must also not only create staff who can work better with poor communities, but rapidly mobilize large numbers of community-level development workers to ensure that within the next five years, levels of poverty fall, critical food supplies become more secure and poor communities become more resilient to the negative impact of changes in the world’s economy, climate and local environment.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is working within the Wetlands Alliance partnership to develop such a strategy and has focused on the challenge of mobilizing over 5,000 agricultural officers in Laos who are living and working closely with local communities. Many of these staff are based in district agricultural offices or community-level Technical Support Centers (TSCs) and the MAF is keen to focus its efforts in areas identified as being the poorest (Jut Sum). These officers are the “front-line” for many of the nation’s ongoing development programs, but most of them still have very limited agricultural education and lack some basic competencies for effectively working with poor communities.

The Minister of Agriculture and Forestry urgently wants to establish a nation-wide program of capacity-building for these staff, but he is concerned that traditional approaches to education and training of staff at this level are not sufficiently effective – people learn “too much theory” and it takes “too long to produce measurable impacts on poverty reduction”. What is required is an alternative approach that re-thinks what district officers need to learn as well as how any capacity-building program might best be delivered.

In response to this demand the Wetlands Alliance facilitated a comprehensive process of local consultation in 2006 to examine and discuss the available options for developing an alternative approach. It was decided that to embark on a process of improving curriculum and teaching approaches currently used in agricultural colleges and universities in Laos would be “too slow” to respond to the nation’s immediate needs for more effective district staff. While appropriate as a longer-term goal, a more immediate and practical solution that would yield immediate and measurable benefits in terms of poverty reduction was required.

The main outcomes of this consultation were a decision to jointly develop and pilot a new regional professional bachelor degree program in Poverty Reduction and Agricultural Management (PRAM) as well as some important agreements on what this educational program should look like. It was agreed that the program should:

  • Have a curriculum developed through a series of collaborative workshops that involve not only teachers and education specialists, but also development professionals (Government officers and extension workers from central, provincial and district levels).
  • Be demand-led, with the ultimate value or effectiveness of the educational program judged by its ability to alleviate poverty NOT how much abstract knowledge and skills the district officers acquire.
  • Be highly practical with learning mainly centered on undertaking activities in the field related to poverty reduction.
  • Utilize the knowledge and experience of senior and respected development professionals in Laos and integrate this into the curriculum.
  • Be flexible so that officers can work and study at the same time and complete the study program over an extended period of time, if necessary.
  • Be able to recognize and value knowledge and skills that District officers have already acquired so that they are not wasting time and effort re-learning  what they already know.
  • Be linked to existing government systems of professional reward and promotion. In addition, course credits and qualifications must be accepted not only at the national level, but also recognized and accepted by Lao’s international development partners.
  • Build on existing courses and curriculum and develop ways for suitable existing courses to be integrated into the educational program.
  • Utilize the resources, experience and knowledge available in Northeast Thailand which shares a similar language and culture with Laos.

A degree program is now being developed in accordance with these agreements under the partnership of the Wetlands Alliance program. Led by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, a group of agricultural colleges, provincial universities (in Laos and Northeast Thailand), AIT and CORIN-ASIA are developing the program.  Results so far have been very promising. 35 students (district officers) from seven provinces of Southern Laos are enrolled in PRAM courses. They have already completed a set of Orientation Courses and Core Courses and are now embarking on a series of four poverty-reduction projects which comprise the Elective Course part of the PRAM curriculum. These projects are undertaken with communities in National Poverty-Reduction Focal Areas and to successfully complete each project, the students are required to clearly demonstrate that their interventions actually reduce poverty in the communities.

Measuring the effectiveness of the educational program through its impact on poverty is central to the development of the PRAM Initiative in Laos. It uses the “fitness for purpose” approach to academic quality assurance that is now increasingly advocated for use in education by senior educators world-wide.

Although the agricultural officers studying in the PRAM program have yet to graduate, workplace assessments have already revealed significant improvements in their general levels of professional competency. In additional to acquiring new skills and knowledge, the students have clearly been motivated by the professional training and, importantly, already demonstrate a much higher degree of confidence to tackle new problems and  challenges. By leveraging new and more practical approaches to professional-competency development and making more effective use of the educational resources available regionally, the PRAM Initiative is well on its way to providing MAF with a practical approach for rapidly upgrading the education of large numbers of its community-level staff.

Over the next four years, the MAF aims to further develop and more widely implement the PRAM Initiative into a national-level professional training program that will complement existing government initiatives for rural development. Accelerating the professional development of MAF staff at the community level will also increase the effectiveness of government  resources in the poorest districts of the country, and supplement national strategies for the elimination of poverty and the strengthening of food security.

The Wetlands Alliance

The Wetlands Alliands was launched in 2005 with support from Sida as a partnership between four regional institutions:

  • Asian Institute of Technology (AIT)
  • Asian Coastal Resources Institute Foundation (CORIN-Asia)
  • World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)
  • WorldFish Center)

The Alliance aims to share a common framework (or common currency) of project implementation for poverty focused local capacity building in the Mekong region.

Focusing on wetlands and aquatic resources, a central element in the livelihoods of poor people in the Mekong region, the Alliance has now grown in three years to include over 40 regional and local institutions in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment


I heard about your organisation in a journal article and would love to know more. Such as, is the course open to students from the UK? Are there volunteer opportunities?

I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing, congratulations and well done!

Thanks 🙂

Comment by stickydatecake

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I do not recognize who you are but definitely you are going
to a well-known blogger in the event you aren’t already.

Comment by Isidro

Awesome! Its truly remarkable post, I have ggot mjch clear idea
regarding from this article.

Comment by needs practice

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