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Focus Group Discussions in Laos

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Last winter and spring a series of qualitative focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted in Laos as a part of the INES -project. The aim was to provide data on rural and urban resources and livelihood strategies in Laos that would support climate sensitive and sustainable natural resource policies, food security and poverty reduction. Together 14 FGDs were conducted in 6 provinces and in Vientiane capital (the picture below from Hadkhor village in Luang Prabang province). The criteria for selecting FGD participants required that they are in charge of making daily decisions on energy and food consumption in their households. The FGDs were conducted in Laotian and were translated into English by Bouasavanh Khanthaphat, who also moderated the FGDs.

The questions were divided into 4 categories: livelihood and food security; change in livelihood condition; coping strategies; and household energy management. I’ve had the interesting task to examine the data from FGDs more closely and here are some findings.

Together 10 FGDs were conducted in rural villages (both on- and off-grid) and groups comprised both men and women. The main topics were coping strategies, livelihoods, energy consumption and changes in these. In on-grid villages people have more resilience to changes in the environment, livelihoods and weather patterns. On-grid villages usually have irrigation systems for rice paddies and more electrical appliances to ease the work. On the other hand good connections to other areas provide more earning and consumption possibilities. In recent years rural villages have faced many man-made environmental changes. Dam projects have had a negative effect on fisheries and plantation projects have accelerated deforestation. Non-timber products are more difficult to find these days.

4 FGDs were conducted in Vientiane capital and there were separate groups for both sexes. All the interviewees had migrated from rural areas less than 5 years ago. The most important reasons for migration were better job opportunities, but many interviewees also wanted to see and experience new things and city life. Livelihoods in Vientiane are not as dependent on environment as life in villages. Earned income is spent to food, to gather savings and to help relatives. The life in the city was not found to be as comfortable as expected, but most of the migrants were planning to stay in Vientiane.