Vientiane Times, 9 Oct 2014
In the first six months of this year rubber reached the top of the list of Lao agricultural exports as the highest revenue earner after the number of rubber trees mature enough to tap increased substantially. The country exported about 16,650 tonnes of unfinished and raw rubber products to China, Vietnam and Thailand and received almost US$37 million according to an official Agriculture Department report. Other major agricultural export earners were sweetcorn, 186,000 tonnes worth US$36 million; coffee, over 7,000 tonnnes worth almost US$16 million and cassava, 50,000 tonnes worth about US$12 million.
These figures relate only to exports going through the Agriculture Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The numbers would be higher if the authorities were able to get accurate details of the volume of agricultural products going through each relevant sector around the country. Also, some figures are unobtainable as there is still illegal trading along the borders. The rubber growers, however, are suffering from a low price of latex at the moment as the world market price has dropped considerably. Large numbers of the country’s rubber producers have switched to growing other commercial crops as a result.
The country now has about 261,000 hectares of rubber plantation, of which over 30,000 hectares are ready for harvesting according to the ministry. Most of the rubber plantations are in the northern and southern provinces of Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Saravan, Champassak and Attapeu. In the last few years coffee has topped the list of the country’s principle agricultural export earners. The government recently suspended land concessions for new rubber plantations to review the projects that have not gone into production but they agreed that local people could grow it on their farm lands to establish a long term family income. The country had expected that the revenue from rubber would increase when the newer plantations matured to the point where latex could be harvested. Despite the price being low at the moment the material is in high demand around the world and the officials at the ministry believe that the price will improve when there is a product shortage. Rubber has helped improve the living conditions of many local families who have supply contracts with the big companies, which means it also contributes significantly to provincial economic development and poverty reduction.