Research to support sustainable groundwater development and governance in Laos

Lao PDR (Laos) is a landlocked country of around seven million people situated in the heart of the Mekong region (Fig. 1). Listed amongst the 47 UN-designated Least Developed Countries, its level of socioeconomic development is comparable to that of neighboring Myanmar and Cambodia but significantly lower than China, Thailand and Vietnam. Subsistence farming is the primary means of food security and income for nearly 80% of all households. Poorly developed, water-rich countries such as Laos have historically paid most attention to surface water resources, with limited consideration to groundwater. The attention to groundwater in Laos received a much-needed boost through a four year research project (2012-2016) funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). The project, ‘Enhancing the Resilience and Productivity of Rainfed Dominated Systems in Lao PDR through Sustainable Groundwater Use’, was the first multi-disciplinary research effort focused on groundwater issues in the country. With the project completed (ACIAR 2016), this article examines its contributions in the areas of science, policy and capacity development and highlights the main lessons learnt during its implementation. These learnings may resonate with those actors already involved in, or considering involvement in applied groundwater research under similar conditions.