In rural areas of developing countries, it is quite common to see street vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables. They “travel,” selling agricultural produce that they grow. My mom, who is working in Laos, one day met a group of women on a “business trip” to sell their agricultural products. These women in the photos are selling rattan shoots. They live close to a forest, and often go into the forest to collect rattan shoots. Since the rattan shoots are edible, they are valued as cash crops.
Can you imagine how long they walked to come to this place? They had left their village at one o’clock in the morning, and arrived at this village around 10 o’clock. They walked about 20km in 9 hours, carrying heavy sacks full of rattan shoots. They did not sleep at all. They took a rest for a while on the way, but throughout the night, they kept walking to find a “market.”
The rattan shoots are sold, wrapped in taro leaves to keep them fresh and sold that way. In their village or nearby villages, there is very little demand for rattan shoots because villagers do not have to “buy” rattan shoots. If villagers want to eat rattan shoots, they will go into the forest and collect them by themselves. On the other hand, there is a demand in the villages and towns which are located far away from the forests. Therefore, these women have to walk a long way to find a market. To make money, they walk and walk. On that day, they told me that they were going back home, on the same day after selling all the rattan shoots. That means that they are walking for almost the whole day.
In such a situation, what kind of assistance is expected of international donors and NGOs? What kind of market development strategies would be the best? What should be the roles of the Lao government?