Vientiane Times, 15 September 2014
The government has formulated a strategy to preserve 4.5 million hectares of prime agricultural land by 2020 in the interests of food security and the growth of the processing industry. The figure will include 2.5 million hectares of rice plantations, 1.6 million hectares for cash crops and about 0.8 million hectares for livestock raising, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The agricultural land currently under crop cultivation and livestock operations within the country was almost two million hectares, the ministry’s Office Deputy Head, Mr Sousath Xayakoummane, told Vientiane Times last week. Laos would be at risk of future food insecurity if the country did not properly preserve enough of its prime agricultural land, Mr Sousath warned.
Due to the increasing population and also the number of factories, the country should protect prime agricultural land for development expansion in the future, he stressed. Currently, Laos is experiencing a rise in conflicts due to land concessions for development and construction projects as well as investment in other sectors. However the country still has adequate land areas to ensure the protection of prime growing lands and future agricultural expansion if development is well managed. The government is encouraging farmers to shift from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture for sale and export and so the supply of land needs to be preserved if this policy is to be put into place. Most Lao people still make a living from agriculture, especially planting crops, breeding livestock and selling non-timber forest products. So, the agriculture sector is a main contributor to socio-economic development, Mr Souath said.
However, the sector covers around 90 percent of development land and only contributes 24 percent of Gross Domestic Product, according to the director of the Lao National Economic Research Institute, Dr Leeber Lebouapao. Each year, the sector expands at a rate of 3 percent per annum, which is less than the industry and service sector. The expansion will be delayed in the next few years due to the lack of investment, he said. Despite the agriculture sector growing slowly it was sustainable, Dr Leeber noted, adding that while mining was a fast-growing sector it would only last for the short term. Laos is the most rural country in Southeast Asia, with over three quarters of the total population currently living in rural areas, according to World Bank. Agriculture and rural development remain central to both growth and poverty reduction of the country.