According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food insecurity affects more than ten percent of Lao households with an additional 50 percent being at risk of food insecurity if late or erratic rainfalls, floods or pests affect them. In addition, only 20 percent of the land in Laos is cultivable with the remaining 80 percent being mountainous or under forest cover. With a small area of cultivatable land and high demand for agricultural produce, small farming households are finding ways to be better organized in order to match the market demands in terms of product volume and quality.
The Xao Ban cooperative is a woman run neighborhood cooperative founded in 2003 in Vientiane, the capital of Lao. The Xao Bao group produces dairy products, honey, organic vegetables and fruits, and fresh fruit juices, as well as many other natural products depending on the season. This independent neighborhood, self supported cooperative group aims to create more employment opportunities for its members and local people. Their policy is to support local farmers and other local providers of natural products.
Since 2006, the Food and Drug Division of the Ministry of Public Health on hygiene and safety standards has certified the Xao Bao production process to a high standard. Members are not only taught to maintain good quality produce, but they are also introduced to techniques that help their household diversify food production and income sources, as well as to improve processing, preservation and storage of food.
The Xao Ban group also assists village locals on micro-irrigation systems, with the ultimate goal to be a model for village groups producing natural foods and building on local employment.
The Xao Ban group also stresses the importance of social networks and local leadership to connect group members to market places and district institutions. They hope to continue to develop new high quality products, and expand their model to similar small-scale enterprises around Lao.