By VIENTIANE TIMES
ASIA NEWS NETWORK
The government has forecast that the sector will grow by 2.8 percent this year so long as there is no flooding, drought or other extreme weather event.
Economists are concerned that Laos will suffer a shortfall in agricultural production this year due to the prolonged dry season, disease outbreaks, and flooding.
Noting that agriculture underpins the country’s economy, Dr Phouphet Kyophilavong, an economist with the Faculty of Economics and Business Management at the National University of Laos, told Vientiane Times that the sector is far from achieving planned growth rate.
“Growers are not only suffering from the high cost of production but also face the problem of producing crops of sufficiently high quality to meet market needs,” he said. “If we want the agriculture sector to grow more quickly, we need to attract more domestic and foreign investors in this sector.”
A clear agriculture promotion policy is required to help growers overcome their hurdles and challenges and boost productivity. The government also needs to regulate the use of pesticides and other chemicals to avoid impacts on the environment.
Although some 70 per cent of Lao people rely on agriculture for their livelihood, this sector has grown at a rate of only 3 per cent over the past two decades. Last month, thousands of hectares of crops died when the rains failed to materialise and diseases attacked, sparking greater concerns about a further decline in agricultural production and food security.
In Xayaboury province, 30 percent of 35,000 hectares of sweetcorn was destroyed by a plague of fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). In addition, a high percentage of the country’s 800,000 hectares of wet-season rice has not been transplanted.
Growers are also encountering hurdles in accessing finance, and lack technical know-how and the equipment needed to produce quality products that meet market needs.
Agriculture is a much more expensive undertaking in Laos than in Vietnam and Thailand, meaning that the end products are uncompetitive in the regional market.
As a result, many farmers have been forced to abandon their dry-season rice crop as they don’t make any profit from it because of the high cost of irrigation.
Many irrigation systems have been left unused and are ineffective, with some becoming damaged due to lack of maintenance. Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Bounkhuang Khambounheuang said his ministry has instructed local authorities to diversify and not to rely on one particular crop.
He said farmers will be encouraged to grow other crops that result in higher economic returns. This is aimed at helping farmers to overcome their challenges and boost overall yields.