Farming systems throughout the Lao PDR have changed drastically over the last 15 years due to a range of factors. In some areas where market forces are prevalent, shifting cultivation systems have given way to more conventional high-input agricultural systems. In other more remote areas, the traditional swidden system with long rotations has been put under pressure primarily due to modification of land access and increasing population pressure. In southern Xayabury in the Mekong corridor, where there is access to the Thai market, land preparation has become based on burning residues and ploughing on steep slopes. Because of the environmental and financial costs of land preparation, farmers are shifting to herbicides, which lead to chemical pollution, while crop residues and weed mulch are usually burned, thereby increasing mineral losses and erosion on bare soil. In mountainous areas such as Xieng Khouang Province, the rationale of shifting cultivation is collapsing as farmers use land for longer periods of cropping and return more frequently to each field. A holistic research approach has been implemented in Xayabury and Xieng Khouang to find direct seeding mulch-based cropping (DMC) systems that are compatible with farmers' strategies and which can be reproduced inexpensively on a large scale. The methodological framework, based on five main components, emphasises the process of adaptation and validation by farmer groups, meaning that priorities are defined by smallholders in light of the constraints of their farming systems and the overall environmental conditions.