Laos’s rice production has fallen short of government targets for the second year running due to natural disasters and a seed shortage, dealing a potential blow to the Southeast Asian nation’s ambition of becoming a rice exporter.
It produced 2.70 million tons of rice in 2012, 10,000 tons short of the official goal, according to official figures.
The figure marks a decline in total rice production for the second year in a row.
An agriculture official said Laos had missed the 2012 target because the country lacks seed to distribute to farmers and farmers are uninformed about the best cultivation methods.
“Laos was not able to produce enough rice to meet the target because of a lack of seed, and in particular because farmers do not understand how to use the seed correctly, which reduces the quality of the rice yield,” he told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Floods were another factor, mostly in the low-lying areas along Mekong River,” he said.
Most of the country’s rice comes from the lowland areas, which can support cultivation during both the wet and dry seasons, while upland areas rely on irrigation.
Laos is aiming to produce 4.2 million tons of rice by 2015 and turn itself into a rice exporter alongside its neighbors.
Population growth has triggered greater demand in recent years for the staple grain in Southeast Asian and world markets, creating the possibility for Laos to export rice within the region.
Last year, it announced plans to join neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and Thailand in establishing a rice exporting cooperative aimed at gaining leverage on the international rice market.
A report by the Asian Development Bank predicted Laos will be able to shift its status from rice importer to a minor rice exporter over the next decade if it can maintain current grain production and consumption growth rates.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has warned that Laos faces considerable constraints for future rice production, including limited arable land suitable for rice cultivation, a vastly underdeveloped irrigation capacity, and extreme underfunding for agricultural crop extension programs.
In order to raise the growth, Laos has plans to devote more land to rice cultivation, raising the current 821,000 hectares to over 1 million hectares.
A majority of Laos’s agricultural land is devoted to the crop, with an average rice production capacity of 1.76 tons per hectare.
But large swathes of rice paddy land are also being turned over to property development, sparking concern that better management of agricultural land is needed to protect the country’s food security, the Vientiane Times newspaper reported Thursday.
Although last year’s 2.7 million tons of rice produced fell short of target, it came closer to the mark than the year before.
In 2011, which saw severe floods and droughts, Laos produced 2.9 million tons of rice out of a targeted 3.64 million, according to official figures.
In 2010, it produced 3.26 million tons out of a targeted 3.3 million.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.