Vientiane Times, 23 July 2014
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is committed to putting stronger measures in place to conserve agricultural lands, notably those located nears dams, weirs and along irrigation channels. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Mr Vilayvanh Phomkhe was responding to a question raised by National Assembly (NA) members at the ongoing NA session recently.
NA members found that many hectares of agricultural land have been converted into other classifications, in particular those located nearby irrigation systems. The NA members were concerned that the conversion issue could affect agricultural production and food security in Laos.
Mr Vilayvanh said the ministry will focus on demarcation and mapping agricultural land for conservation and will absolutely not allow the conversion of this type of land, stipulating measures to penalise thos e who violate the regulations and laws related to this issue. The ministry will cooperate with local authorities to manage prime agricultural land to prevent instances of land use change from occurring again in the future.
In 2012, the ministry established an agricultural land management and development department to serve as the secretariat for the ministry to handle this task. In June this year, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong issued an order banning people from converting agricultural land along the Gate 3 irrigation system downstream from Nam Theun 2 hydropower project. The ministry will also conduct a detailed survey and allocation for coffee plantation areas on the Bolaven plateau, the area for khao kai noy rice plantation in the provinces of Huaphan and Xieng Khuang and also livestock husbandry areas in Xieng Khuang province.
Mr Vilayvanh said the government will focus on encouraging farmers to boost productivity by formulating an incentive policy for them to continue farming instead of converting their agricultural land to other categories of use. He said his ministry will cooperate with other sectors including the urban planning sector to clearly define development areas and agricultural areas.
Mr Vilayvanh told the NA session that currently there is limited funding to conduct a survey and allocation of agricultural land, resulting in many hectares of land for agriculture being converted to use for other purposes. In Vientiane alone, thousands of hectares of agricultural land have been converted into residential and commercial areas over the past decade due to growing urbanisation. The problem arose partly due to a lack of coordination between the sectors concerned and the weakness of the law enforcement sector in Laos, which has resulted in many people violating the law to convert agricultural land to other uses.
The loss of prime farming areas due to residential and industrial expansion has sparked concerns over the government’s efforts to boost rice production and to expand the area of agricultural land to 2 million hectares by 2020. Currently Laos has about 1.2 million hectares of agricultural land including 0.9 million hectares of rice fields.