Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Enormous unlocked rice growing potential

Vientiane Times, 1 July, 2013

Laos could expand its rice cultivation area to 2 million hectares capable of producing 8-10 million tonnes of rice per year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Under current government targets, farmers are encouraged to plant 960,000 hectares of rice – of which 76 percent are wet season varieties – to produce about 3.4 million tonnes.

However, at a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad last week, the ministry’s Agriculture Department reported that goal could be set far higher. Department Director General, Dr Monthathip Chanphengxay, said combining natural water resources and the expansion of irrigation systems funded by government investment and international assistance could allow farmers to unlock more of the country’s potential.

“About 70 percent of all rice production will come from a focus on seven large flatland areas in central and southern parts of the country, with small areas in the north to be a second priority,” she said. The ministry has aimed to increase rice production targets from 3.8 million tonnes this year to 4 million tonnes next year and 4.2 million tonnes by 2015, according to Dr Monthathip.

Laos is currently one of the largest rice growers in the Asean region, with average rice exports to Vietnam, Thailand, China and further afield averaging 200,000-300,000 tonnes per year. Dr Monthathip said since about 1999-2000, Lao farmers have been able to produce enough rice to meet domestic demand, switching the focus of the staple crop to export. Since then rice production has grown rapidly, with ministry targets rising from 2.6 million tonnes in 2006 to 3.43 million tonnes last year.

However, the government continues to welcome domestic and foreign investment in the sector to improve the quality of rice yields by bringing new technology to rural farmers. To promote increased rice production, the Agriculture Department provides regular updates to government leaders in an effort to establish the best possible policy on rice.

The department plans to set up national and local committees on rice production, which could discuss and debate strategies for rice growing and how best to market the product, and deal with any small or large scale issues which may arise. The department will also focus on creating an agricultural information system to integrate with information from the Asean region.

Laos currently produces an annual rice surplus of more than 1 million tonnes on total domestic demand and the Asian Development Bank predicted Laos would be able to shift its status from rice importer to a minor rice exporter over the next decade if it can maintain current grain production and consumption growth rates.

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