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Lao PDR is currently in the least developed country category according to the United Nations, and the government has set the goal of graduating from this category by 2024. To support Laos in this aim, international organizations and foreign countries have provided assistance in terms of technical or monetary aid to support the eradication of poverty. These international actors work closely with both the central and village levels of government through rural development projects. This article examines the effectiveness of agricultural groups after the implementation of rural development projects. Two villages were selected as contrastive case studies reflecting top-down and bottom-up approaches of rural development. In the first village, Village L (pseudonym), agriculture groups were created by the Korea International Cooperation Agency project following the renowned Saemaul Undong development model, while in the second, Village T (pseudonym), a locally rooted ‘village organic agriculture group,’ was formed by the villagers’ own initiative, and later received support from external actors. Qualitative research methods were used in the study. The research found that in Village L, the dependence on financial and material support from external actors was associated with instability among top-down agriculture groups; moreover, the number of group members did not increase, and activities were difficult to sustain after the top-down KOICA project ended. By contrast, the independent grass-roots movement, the ‘village organic agriculture group’ in Village T, has continued to thrive and grow with side-support from external actors. Therefore, this case study supports the argument that endogenous development in rural Laos requires self-sustaining development methods with side-support from external assistants. However, foreign assistants are still undeniably necessary in present-day Laos to create strong sustainable community development.
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