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

Agricultural expansion needed for food security and commerce

Vientiane Times, 12 Dec 2014

Laos plans to produce about 5 million tonnes of rice by 2020 to ensure food security in the country. Throughout the past 39 years, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has spent a lot of its budget investing in the generation of food produce as a means of creating food security in the country.

The government has focused on rice as the priority food of the nation, encouraging farmers to grow different types of cash crops, livestock development and fish breeding according to ministry reports.

Local farmers planting rice for personal consumption and sale.

This effort has improved the living conditions for many rural people, especially the farmers, and has helped many families to escape from poverty.

At the present time rice growing in the country produces about four million tonnes per annum, equivalent to about 500kg per person, which leaves a surplus of 200kg per person for sale to earn income.

Meat, fish and egg production has also increased to 50-60kg per person per year, which is sufficient for the domestic market. The number of livestock and fish breeders that have grown from being a small family business to now operating as a full farming system has greatly increased and they are now enjoying good incomes from selling their produce. Agricultural production in targeted villages under the three builds policy has also benefited substantially, the ministry confirmed. The ministry still requires cooperation from the relevant sectors, however, and support from international organisations because agricultural production by local farmers is largely done by traditional but inefficient methods which cannot provide a guarantee of food security yet. The ministry has also not yet completed its allocation of land for designated agricultural purposes. Some land areas allocated to farming are not yet being managed well and thousands of hectares of land formerly used for growing rice have been reallocated for industrial and residential use. Many growing areas with good irrigation sources have been taken up for other things such as the Thangone irrigation project in Xaythany district of Vientiane which has been cut back from 1,800 hectares to only 200 hectares because of the amount of construction there. One major concern is that Laos has no national stockpile of rice. It is the only Asean country without one. Rice production is still a relatively capital-intensive business as little has been done to introduce different rice varieties which can produce better yields and farmers also face high costs for fertilizer, improved farming equipment, import taxes and electricity which they use for pumping water into their irrigation system.

To ensure food security in the country and additional stocks are available for export, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has plans to encourage farmers to produce 4.7 to 5 million tonnes of rice by 2020 and 5 to 5.5 million tonnes by 2025, of which 70 percent would be sticky rice and 30 percent white rice. Next year the ministry plans to encourage farmers to increase meat and fish production to reach 379,000 tonnes, an average of 53 kg per person, 487,500 tonnes by 2020, an average of 60 kg per person and 581,000 tonnes by 2025 or 70 kg a person. To reach these targets the ministry will have to develop livestock rearing from being small family-run businesses to full scale farming to double output from the current 90,000 tonnes per year to 180,000 tonnes. To reach these ambitious future targets, the ministry in cooperation with other relevant government organisations needs to allocate specific areas for rice growing and livestock rearing and ensure good management is available. They must also stop the reallocation of agricultural land for other purposes.

The high cost of electricity needs to be lowered for domestic processing industries such as rice mills and for suppliers of agricultural machinery and the ministry needs to ensure all farmers have access to low interest loans. The ministry will increase its programme of animal health inspections, improving the animal health service at both local and central levels, upgrade the quality of animal feed products, supply sufficient animal stocks and reform the land to better facilitate livestock rearing to increase production quantity and quality.

Laos remains a largely agricultural nation with some 80 percent of the population reliant on agricultural production for their livelihoods. The agriculture and forestry sector expands on average 3.3 percent a year and contributes 24.6 percent of GDP according to the ministry. This year, the sector grew by 2.9 percent and contributed into GDP about 24.4 percent.

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