Laos is falling behind on its rice-growing target this season as poor irrigation systems and the promise of better prices for cash crops pushes farmers to plant less of the grain, according to officials and news reports.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had urged farmers across the country to plant 126,000 hectares (311,000 acres) of rice this dry season, which ends in April.
But as farmers eschew the water-intensive grain for vegetable crops, only 44,100 hectares (109,000 acres), or some 35 percent of the goal, have been planted, according to government statistics.
This will leave Laos short on its harvest target of 500,000 tonnes (551,000 short tons) of rice this season, an agriculture official told RFA’s Lao Service.
“The plan for planting rice this dry season has been able to reach only 35 percent of the target because many farmers have turned to growing more cash crops,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Because of this, rice production for this season will not reach the target,” the official said.
This year’s planting area will suffer a sharp drop from the 96,200 hectares (238,000 acres) in the same period in 2013, which was still short of that year’s goal, the state-run Vientiane Times reported.
The ministry believes farmers have been discouraged from planting rice by the low price of the commodity and insufficient water supply from irrigation systems in the country’s north, which unlike the south relies more heavily on irrigation, the paper said.
Instead of rice, farmers in the north are using the paddy areas to grow vegetables such as watermelon, bean, eggplant, tomatoes and chilies to sell, according to the paper.
The ministry has made attempts to promote better irrigation management among local-level officials, instituting a Nationwide Irrigation Day last year and calling for stricter enforcement of regulations on using water, the Vientiane Times reported last year.
Farmers say the irrigation systems have been left in disrepair due to budget problems.
In July, officials said as many as 42 irrigation systems in Vientiane province were left unrepaired following damage by floods in 2011 and 2012, hampering rice planting targets in the province, the KPL Lao news agency reported.
The impoverished country is aiming to join the ranks of its rice-exporting neighbors within the next decade but has fallen short on rice production targets in recent years.
According to a government report last month, rice production in Laos for 2012-13 reached only 3.52 million tonnes, or 93 percent of the yearly plan which was set at 3.8 million tonnes, according to the Vientiane Times.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.