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Land and water investment in the Lao PDR - Mr. Anonth Khamhung

Mr. Anonth Khamhung, Director General, Department of Planning
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lao PDR


The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a small landlocked country located in the Indochina Peninsula. It is increasingly being recognized that landlocked can be interpreted as land - linked, changing the emphasis from regional exclusion to regional inclusion. The country's total area is 236 800 km2. About 20 percent of the land area is flatland (70 - 200 msl); the other 80 percent is sloping hillsides and mountains (200 - 2 820 msl). The Lao PDR has a tropical monsoon climate: annual rainfall averages 1 000 - 1 500 mm in most of the country. While there is an abundance of forest and water resources with potential for development, both floods and drought are commonly experienced. The population is about 5 million persons with a growth rate of about 2.5 - 2.8 percent per annum. Lao is a multi - ethnic country having some 48 ethnic groups.

From 1975 to 2000, the development of the socio - economy of the Lao PDR improved significantly. Agriculture is the main sector of the national economy and has shown marked success, especially from 1997 to 2000, in spite of the negative impact of the financial crisis of 1997 and after. Agriculture's share of GDP was about 51 percent in 2000, with an average growth rate of 4 to 5 percent annually. Nevertheless the pace of change has been quite uneven. Along the Mekong corridor, market forces now drive the agricultural economy. In the mountainous sloping lands away from the Mekong, subsistence agriculture and acute rural poverty predominate. Economic growth has had significant effect in raising urban living standards but its impact in remote rural areas was marginal.

In 1986, the Government of the Lao PDR (GOL) made a drastic policy reform, shifting from a centrally planned economy to a market oriented system by introducing the New Economic Mechanism (NEM). The reforms included price decontrol, liberalization of trade and payment systems, introduction of a two - tier banking system, freeing all but agriculture - related interest rates, initiation of civil service reforms, introduction of a legal framework to support a market economy and an extensive privatization programme. Considerable progress has been achieved in structural transformation and macro - economy that contributed to the growth of real GDP at the robust rate of 6.3 percent per annum from 1990 to 1994, and per capita income rising at a 3.2 percent rate over the same period. Growth accelerated to 8.1 percent in 1994, continuing at 7.1 percent in 1995 and an estimated 6.9 percent in 1996, led by the strong recovery of agricultural production and a continued boom in manufacturing, construction and services. In 1997 the Lao PDR joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).

The effects of the crisis were significant, with real GDP growth in 1998 falling to 4 percent in contrast to rates of almost 7 percent in the previous two years. However, lowered GDP growth was not very serious in comparison with other countries, because agriculture continued to perform well owing to relatively high prices of rice and other major crops. Paddy production increased by 18 percent from 1996 to 1998 because of increased irrigation by heavy investment in the National Pump Installation Management Project (NPIMP), while industrial sector GDP, particularly the textile industry, dropped by half from 1996 to 1997. The best performing industrial subsector was hydropower whose output increased by more than 60 percent in 1998, while the construction subsector showed a 18 percent fall in 1998 - obviously affected by the crisis.


Food security is still and will be the Lao PDR's highest priority strategy to stabilize economic development and socio - political security. The overall objective of national food security is to stabilize food production and maintain growth rates to meet domestic demand and overcome the basic problem of food distribution and circulation in difficult areas and at the same time increase average household food security.

As rice is the staple for the Lao people, its production must be stabilized at a high level. Increased paddy production is to be achieved through intensified production in the six major plains and expansion of cultivated areas for paddy in mountain valleys with adequate water. Rice production reached 2.2 million tonnes in 2000 compared to 1.4 million tonnes in 1995. This remarkable increase was mainly due to the rapid development of an irrigation system for dry season rice production since 1997.

Average production of paddy rice per capita has increased from 310 kg in 1995 to 430 kg in 2000. For the last five years the annual growth of rice production was 9.2 percent and other foodstuffs such as maize, roots and tuber crop, soybean, vegetables, eggs, poultry and meat products also increased. These annual growth rates exceeded the annual population growth rate of about 2.5 percent. However production of food and foodstuffs is still insufficient and unevenly distributed. Production is still not very stable due to frequent natural events, e.g. calamitous floods and drought, and limited agricultural infrastructure. There is also a wide variation in food production from region to region and among provinces. The main food producing areas are concentrated in the main plains along the Mekong River and account for 60 to 70 percent of food output. In the mountains where over half the population lives, food output was only some 30 to 40 percent of total output.


Government statistics (Lao Expenditure and Consumption, 1997/98) indicate that nearly one - third (30.6 percent) of the population can be classified as poor, below the low or food poverty line, while 39 percent are below the high poverty line. However, there are large differences in the incidence of poverty across urban and rural areas and across regions. The incidence of poverty is 43.8 percent in rural areas and 15 percent in urban areas.

Food circulation and distribution between regions is at present a great challenge to better ensure national food security. Half the provinces (nine of 18 provinces and cities) face frequent food deficit situations; most are located in mountainous regions where difficult transportation conditions (mainly in the north) obstructs food distribution.


The strategies and policies of the Government of the Lao PDR toward development in the opening years of the twenty - first century are: (i) to completely exit the group of least - developed countries by the year 2020, to basically eradicate poverty by the year 2010, and to reduce poverty for half of the poor by the year 2005; (ii) to achieve these goals, the government continues to implement the New Economic Mechanism (NEM) in both economics and politics. This consists of continuing the in - depth transformation towards a market economy through state adjustment, promotion of all economic sectors and the exploitation and use of our resource potentials in an efficient and sustainable manner. Furthermore, (iii) government intends that national development will take place within the priorities of national programmes outlined in its current Socio-economic Development Plan: food production; stabilization and reduction of shifting cultivation; commercial production; infrastructure development; improved socio-economic management and foreign economic relations; and rural development and services development.

In this respect agriculture and forestry will play the key role in developing the national economy in the context of sustainable resource use and poverty alleviation. Most the poor are farmers in rural and mountainous areas: household food consumption in Laos strongly depends on home production. In poor rural households, food accounts for 75 percent of total household expenditure and home production contributes nearly 80 percent. Nationally, food accounts for 62 percent of total household spending, with self production contributing more than 60 percent. The poor - including both the food - poor and the undernourished - are largely rural people who depend on agriculture. Farm households have the highest incidence of poverty (52.4 percent) of all occupations. Food security issues are thus related to low farm productivity. Therefore government food security targets for the farming population are designed to increase productivity and participation in the market.

Government objectives and programmes for the agriculture sector include: (i) achieving food self - sufficiency; (ii) increasing agricultural exports through cash crop diversification and the commercialization and processing of livestock and forest products; (iii) stabilizing slash - and - burn agriculture (by land allocation for upland farmers, terracing and supporting alternative agricultural activities including agro - forestry and livestock); (iv) irrigation development programme (to increase rural incomes and stabilize food availability by expanding irrigated area in both wet and dry seasons and improving operation and maintenance); (v) agriculture and forestry research programme (to conduct study and surveys of agriculture and forest land and water researches, rehabilitate research stations; cooperate with international research institutions to develop new technology); (vi) human resources development programme (upgrade technical and political skills of staff, agricultural vocational school).

Government’s sectoral strategic vision

The six programmes of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) named above relate to seven themes of this sector's strategic vision, beginning with an overview of the dual economies of Lao PDR, e.g. the flat lands along the Mekong corridor and sloping lands. The thematic approaches are: MAF planning and decentralization; human resources development; business regulatory adjustment; external trade; flat land transformation; sustainable sloping land development and environmental management/shifting cultivation stabilization; and irrigation.

The planning approach: MAF planning decentralization

Policies: area - based integrated agricultural development to better respond to “focal site” rural development; fully decentralized “bottom up” participatory planning within the governmental system; indicative planning based on comparative advantage and rural socio-economic indicators; integrated area - based natural resource management centred on watersheds/river basins (at national and regional levels); local government management of funds, projects and integrated development resources; and fully decentralized “bottom - up” participatory planning with the governmental system.

Strategies: implementation through flatland and sloping land programmes to adjust for different agro - ecological concerns using area - based planning; flatland and sloping land programmes are of equal importance, planned and developed in parallel to allow for upstream and downstream linkages and interactions. Flatland priority is on maintaining the pace of market driven - growth assisted by supportive regulatory systems in parallel with consolidation food security and accelerating the pace of cash crop diversification and intensified livestock and aquaculture development for the local market and for export growth; emphasis in sloping land areas accords high priority to area - based development centred on integrated watersheds/river basins. Primary goals: to achieve stabilization of shifting cultivation and sedentarization of sloping land land - use systems with parallel emphases on supporting infrastructure, e.g. roads and tracks, small - scale irrigation and markets and service centres, followed by livestock and fisheries, forestry, annual and perennial improvement, soil fertility and water and nutrient management and natural resource management; provincial governments continue to plan and implement development in a fully integrated manner; farmer - demand driven applied research and extension; and rotational cycles of farming system.

Human resources development

Policies: MAF to become a farmer service organization in a market economy; district and District Agriculture and Forestry Office (DAFO) are primary links in MAF 'chain' because of interactions with villages/farmers; farmer demand driven adaptive research and extension, problem solving; technical support in applied research, extension and natural resource management provided by new NAFRI, AEA, at central levels; new department of planning and M&E to provide focus of integrated farming systems development.

Strategies: reorganizing DAFO staff as mobile farming systems extension workers (FSEW); reorganizing PAFS as subject matter specialists to support FSEW; transfer redundant and excess staff from flatland areas to sloping land areas; NAFRI, AEA, DOP and DME to provide central focus of integrated farming systems and natural resource management development; form a participatory applied research/extension synergy by strengthening linkages among public and private sector along the lines of successful transformation models (see Table 5).

Business regulatory adjustment

Policies: commitment to market agricultural transformation under “umbrella” of improved regulatory system as tangibly demonstrated by agricultural development progress in the Mekong corridor; support for short to medium - term regulatory revision to bring supportive regulations; and support for parallelism of business regulatory revision among partners.

Strategies: review and revise existing regulations over the short to medium term to adjust to prevailing economic environment; and review and coordinate regulatory reform measures with Lao PDR regional trading partners.

External trade

Policies: full support for trade liberalization and regional economic integration with minimal controls on export/import in concert with tangible trade liberalization measures by regional trading partners; and gradual formalizing of informal cross border flows.

Strategies: closely monitor tangible progress of regional trading partners in reducing/removing import/export permits and licenses and eliminating effective quantitative control over imports through licensing; move toward trade liberalization in concert with parallel moves by regional trading partners; operate, in concert with regional trading partners, to move many agricultural products and inputs to the AFTA inclusion list

Flatland transformation

Policies: maintain pace of Mekong corridor market - driven changes; ensure food security and accelerate the process of cash crop diversification and intensified livestock and aquaculture development for the local market and for export growth.

Strategies: development centred on rehabilitating and expanding irrigation schemes, strengthened local and community - based management of irrigation systems, improved agricultural and farming systems, increased and intensified cash crops, livestock and fisheries production. Increased investments in improving post - harvest technology and establishment of value - added small and medium processing enterprises.

More specific strategies include: increased and intensified irrigated dry season agricultural development in Mekong corridor with participatory, community management of systems; agricultural and farming systems research, with special consideration to environmentally friendly practices (e.g. IPM and organic fertilizer use); prioritizing adaptive research, trials and demonstrations; rating appropriate and more integrated technologies suitable for specific flatland environments; testing and introducing new plant/animal species; technology testing and extension of forage production and pasture systems; technology testing and extension of improved aquaculture systems; FSEW/SMS formation and training for bottom - up farmer demand - driven extension; gradual formalizing of informal trade channels in concert with liberalization of border trade with regional trading partners; streamline licensing procedures for agribusiness; continue to let market forces operate under the “umbrella” of improved regulatory system; market - determined interest and competitive environment for rural credit mechanisms; establish public sector market information channels; and set product grades and standards.

Sustainable slopeland development and environmental management/shifting cultivation stabilization

Policies: shift to an area - based and decentralized on integrated watershed/river basins; rural poverty alleviation; shifting cultivation stabilization.

Strategies: expand and strengthen government and MAF multi - sectoral approach to achieve sedentarization of slopeland agricultural communities and tenure through participatory planning; land - use zoning based on biophysical (e.g. slope and land capability) and socio-economic parameters; participatory land allocation and land - use occupancy entitlement; promotion of community management of natural resources; farming systems diversification and agro - forestry development through adaptive research, trials and demonstration on farmer’s fields; expansion of community managed irrigation systems; farmer demand driven extension; sustainable land use management with soil erosion control, afforestation, and conservation management; rural savings mobilization and credit extension; rural finance development based on market determined interest rates and open competition (generally) among private and public sector rural finance mechanisms with some specialized subsidized lending activities (specific cases) to accelerate and cushion the risks of farming systems diversification among poorest social strata; upgrade capacity and legal framework of SOCBs in commercial and banking transactions; opening community market access through feeder road upgrading and expansion and market information delivery.


Policies: allocation and provision of water, on a sustainable basis, for agro - forestry systems (in sloping lands) and for existing and new agricultural areas (in flatland areas); diversification of water resources for irrigation and management for sustainable utilization; improve water resource productivity, marginal values; improve maintenance of irrigation systems and strengthen O&M; maintain watersheds and mitigate environmental degradation; alleviate rural poverty; and accelerate cash crop production for exports and import substitution.

Strategies: continue to focus investment on most economical viable schemes, consolidate and expand irrigated areas; continue to strengthen community participation and initiative in project planning work and maintenance; encourage beneficiary financing in development and O&M of irrigation systems; strengthen farmer driven extension focus on cash crops, marketing and improving market access; target irrigation development on reservoir and systems; transfer ownership and management of schemes to beneficiaries through local WUAs. Empower water user associations at scheme level to set and collect irrigation O&M Irrigation Service Fees (ISF) commensurate with actual individual scheme characteristics, real scheme O&M costs and with beneficiary capacity to pay based on their gross margins from farming operations.

Master plan for integrated agricultural development

Master plan objectives are to formulate an action plan and an implementation programme that contributes to more effective agricultural development promotion, based on the Strategic Vision framework as the Lao PDR agricultural development strategy and Vision 2020 as basic development policy; and identify priority programmes and projects.

“Towards the Year 2020”, an integrated agricultural development action plan, aims at ten subsectors: land and water resource development; institution and organization; human resource development; field crop; livestock and fisheries; stabilizing shifting cultivation; marketing and agroprocessing; rural finance; rural development; and irrigation.


Land area and resources

The Lao PDR covers an area of 23.68 million ha of which forests occupy 45 to 47 percent, potential forests and other wooded areas (including recovering shifting cultivation areas of about 2 million ha): 41 percent, permanent and temporary arable agriculture, 8 percent, grass and pasture land 4 percent and the remaining areas 2 percent. Comparative estimated land use in three time periods is given in Table 1.

Land suitability

There is considerable information on the soils and land condition. The Soil Survey and Land Classification Center (SSLCC) of the National Agricultural and Forestry Institute (NAFRI) is responsible for soil surveys as well as agricultural and forest land classification, research on the management of agricultural land and fertilizer application. Soil maps and land suitability maps have been produced for the main agricultural areas and for the remaining areas data are now being produced.


Land use for 1982 and 1989, with estimates for 2000

Land use groups/land/use & vegetation types

Area (000 ha)






11 636.8

11 167.7

10 700

Dry dipteropcarp

1 235.1

1 206.5

1 155

Lower dry evergreen




Lower mixed deciduous




Upper dry evergreen

1 105.9

1 061.0

1 017

Upper mixed deciduous

7 492.4

7 448.4

7 136

Gallery forest








Mixed coniferous/broadleaves




Potential forest

7 956.7

8 323.3

8 530


1 457.0

1 531.9

1 260

Poorly stocked, including recovering shifting cultivation areas

6 499.7

6 791.4

7 270

Other wooded areas

1 545.4

1 444.4

1 300

Savannah/open woodlands




Heath & scrub forest




Arable Agriculture

1 306.1

1 475.1

1 810

Sedentary agriculture



1 130

Shifting cultivation & other upland systems








Other land areas




Barren land/rock

















23 680.0

23 680.0

23 680

Land use groups/use & vegetation types

Population (000)

3 346

3 977

5 234

Forest land per person (ha)




Potential forest & other wooded area per person (ha)




Arable agricultural & per person (ha)




Source: DOF 1992. Forest cover and land use in Lao PDR. Report No.5 1992. MOAF. NAFRI 2000.

To conserve and sustainable manage the land and soil, it is important to have information on slope, elevation, soil and existing land use. Knowing these factors, land use planning can be undertaken and an orderly switch from one from of land use to another appropriate form can occur. Information exists on slope, topography and altitude classes as well as existing land uses. Table 2 gives data on land use by sloping classes. This is taken from a nationwide reconnaissance survey of land use in Laos in 1989 with estimates for 2000. Information on slopes will not change over time, only on the land use.

Nearly all permanent agricultural land is in areas having slopes less than 5 percent, whereas 70 percent of shifting cultivation land and other upland farming is on slopes greater than 20 percent. This is a main reason why government is trying to stabilize shifting cultivation by 2010 and to demonstrate more sustainable land - use alternatives. Also, in many upland areas, the soil is unsuitable for annual crops. Land with a slope greater than 20 percent should not be farmed without measures to counter erosion, such as contour ploughing, strips of grass and/or trees along the contours at appropriate intervals, as well as terracing.

Sustainable use of forest and natural resources

The sustainable development of natural resources is not only national importance, but it is also significant from a regional and global perspective. Laos is rich in bio - diversity and has considerable areas of pristine forest: these are important globally. The forests are a source of much timber and many non - timber forest products, including wild animals and aquatic mammals. Such wildlife is important to rural communities for both subsistence and income generation. The forests are also important cattle grazing areas. There are 64 watersheds: 55 river systems contribute 35 percent of the water to the lower Mekong River system - while the remaining nine flow directly into Viet Nam on the northeastern border. Protecting these watersheds is of regional as well as national importance, particularly for lowland agriculture and fishing. Many watersheds are rich in biodiversity. The government recognizes their global importance and created 20 National Biodiversity Conservation Areas (NBCAs) and two corridors connecting three of these areas covering 3.4 million ha. These contain rare and newly discovered plants and animals and are the last remnants of large areas of unique forest types. Most NBCAs have populations living in them practicing shifting cultivation. Stabilization of this land - use system is, therefore, of paramount importance.

Over the past 20 years thousands of hectares of forest have been cleared and some wetlands drained for agricultural expansion. Some of this land was unsuitable for agriculture or should have been maintained in its original state. Thus, considerable pressure is being placed on natural resources and forestland to meet the increasing needs of and expanding population and to satisfy the government policy of improving living standards. The major objective of government is to properly manage both renewable and non - renewable natural resources so as to help meet their goals. However, especially in the agricultural sector, this has to be done in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Having a large forest area and a relatively low population density there is a considerable quantity of wood available to the population

Trees and their importance to farmers

Trees and forests are important components of the farming system and are essential for shifting cultivation. They supply fuel, building materials, food, fibre, medicines and many other NTFPs. They also contribute the bulk of grazing and browse to farm animals and are a significant source of non - farm income for rural people. While forest trees supply most of the products that farmers require, trees outside the forest, especially trees on farm are becoming more important especially as a way to generate income and as an input to sustainable agricultural development. Most arable and pastoral farming systems have trees as an integral component, the exception being lowland paddy production. But even here, farmers plant tree/bamboo in some areas to at least provide shade, but usually to provide food, fibre and fuel.


Lao PDR 2000: Estimated land use by slope and classification

Land use

Slope classes (%)

Total Area

0 - 5

6 - 19

20 - 30

31 - 59





3 731

3 030


10 700

Degraded forest, bamboo & other wooded area

1 548


4 046



9 830

Shifting cultivation, other upland and fallow areas







Permanent agriculture

1 100





1 130








Other land








5 567

1 382

8 473

6 458

1 800

23 680








Note: A slope of 100 percent is equivalent to 45 degrees.

Source: Nationwide Reconnaissance Survey: Report 5, 1992.MAF (DoF), modified to 2000 land use data.

Through the Shifting Cultivation/Agroforestry Research programme, the NTFP project, the EU micro - projects, the Lao - Swedish Forest programme and several other private and public initiatives, planting trees on farms has increased. Agroforestry initiatives, NTFPs and planting trees, bamboo and bushes for food, fruit, nuts, raw silk, paper bark, poles and timber are gaining momentum, especially where there is a developed market for these products.

Forest rules and regulations

On the one hand government and donors are encouraging tree planting. In the Forest Laws (Article 34: Promotion of Tree Planting), tree planting is promoted through various incentives, subsidies and regulations, including credit and tax incentives and the provision of planting material usually from improved stock. There is also an annual National Tree Planting Day June 1st when the population at large is encouraged to plant trees (Article 46, Forest Laws). Article 47 of the Forest Law specifies establishment of a forest and forest resource development fund to promote tree planting, among other things. However, to date the fund has only been established: through the Lao/ADB Plantation Programme, money can be borrowed to invest in planting.

Assessment of agriculture potential

Agriculture potential is assessed in terms of lowland rice, upland crops, tree crops and grazing lands. The assessment was done using existing digital data on forest cover and land use, soil, climatic condition, topographic condition, and unexploded ordnance (UXO). The extent of agriculture potential area for each crop group and grazing land is seen in Boxes 1 and 2. This data shows that the total potential area for annual and perennial crops is some 3.1 million ha compared to 1.0 million ha of existing cultivated area.



The rivers of the Lao PDR contribute about 35 percent of total water volume to the lower Mekong river system. Protecting these watersheds is therefore of regional as well as of national importance, particularly for lowland agriculture and fisheries. During the past 20 years thousands of hectares of forest have been cleared for agricultural expansion. Considerable pressure is thus placed on natural resources and forests to meet the increasing needs of an expanding population and to satisfy governmental policy of improving living standards. Therefore, emphasis will be placed on ensuring proper land use planning and sufficient land allocation for all rural people; protecting catchment areas to reduce erosion and ensuring a more even flow of water.


Assessment of agricultural potential (%)

Potential area for crops

3 120 000 ha


Potential area for grazing land

1 093 000 ha

4 6

Less agriculture potential area

19 467 000 ha



23 680 000 ha



Extent of UXO risk areas (%)


630 000 ha



3 260 000 ha



19 790 000 ha



23 680 000 ha


Surface water

The main rivers of the Lao PDR consist of the primary and secondary tributaries of the Mekong River. There are about 39 main tributaries in the Mekong River basin. There are ten main rivers with catchment areas exceeding 5 000 km2: the Nam Tha, Nam Ou, Nam Xuang, Nam Khan, Nam Ngum, Nam Kading, Xe Banfai, Xe Bang Hiang, Xe Done and the Xe Kong rivers. The total watershed area of the main tributaries is estimated at about 183 000 km2.

On the other hand, only two main rivers, namely the Nam Ma and the Nam Ka are located outside the Mekong River Basin. They expand into the eastern areas of Houaphan and Xieng Khuang provinces and flow directly into Viet Nam. Their total watershed is approximately 15 000 km2. The Nam Ngum River has a large dam and reservoir in Vientiane province. Its total storage capacity is 7 billion m3 and its surface water area attains 370 km2 during the rainy season.

Monthly rainfall is estimated at each rain gauge station. Based on statistical analysis of the collected data monthly rainfall ranges widely from 1 240 mm to 3 770 mm overall. Total annual runoff of main rivers is estimated at 229.9 billion m3 in an ordinary hydrological year, Annual runoff of the main Mekong River tributaries is estimated at 214 billion m3 accounting for 93 percent of the total annual runoff. Annual runoff greater than 1 billion m3 are identified in larger Mekong River tributaries such as the Nam Ngum, the Nam Kading, Xe BangHiang and Xe Kong. The annual runoff of rivers flowing directly into Viet Nam is estimated at 7.185 billion m3 for the Nam Ma River and 8.196 billion m3 for the Nam Ka River.


The only hydrogeologic information currently available for the Lao PDR overall is the Preliminary Appraisal of the Hydrogeology of the Lower Mekong Basin published by the Interim Mekong Committee in 1986. It shows that the Lao PDR is divided into two geological areas, the Annamian strata occupying most northern and eastern regions and the Indosinian sediments, mainly along the Mekong River. The Annamian region includes granites, metamorphics and palaeozoics. The Indosinian region consists of sandstones, siltstones, shales, mudstones, limestones, conglomerates and basalt.

There are three different aquifer systems. The Annamian aquifers occur at random. They are local systems that discharge locally into the river or its tributaries. As local flow systems, they are not part of regional flow systems and will not carry pollution into the regional groundwater system. Potential water supply from groundwater in northern Lao is considerable in view of the high amount of recharge available. Water quality should be reasonably good and for the most part potable but water will be iron rich. Yields up to 5 litres/sec can generally be anticipated.

The Indosinian group of aquifers, which have regional flow, includes rock strata of the Indosinian Moyennes and Superieures and is relatively young. They are mostly freshwater sediments, although three are horizons of brackish water, and one major zone of saline water yields of 12 to 24 litres/sec can be developed. Alluvial aquifers associated with Mekong River sedimentary deposits are not rated highly as aquifers.

Limestones in the central region are strictly Annamian in age, but their location places them logically in the Indosinian flow system. It has been described as having enormous groundwater resources. No notable investigation and study on the groundwater appears to have been conducted in the Lao PDR. In the early 1990s, the Mekong Secretariat conducted a project ‘Review of Groundwater Data in the Lower Mekong Basin’ and installed 18 observation wells: ten were installed in the Vientiane plain and the rest along the Mekong River. The observation revealed the interesting fact that the Mekong River has very little influence on aquifers in the Vientiane plain.


Development policies related to water & water resources


Development Policy


Reduce imported fuel

Support rural development & reduce regional power imbalance

Encourage private investment in hydropower development

Earn foreign exchange for socio-economic development

Minimize environmental impacts &

Develop watershed management


Achieve food self - sufficiency, increase commodity production, reduce shifting cultivation

Involve all stakeholders in irrigation development & management

Coordinate irrigation schemes with other means of increased agricultural production

Protect against flood damage


Maintain current transport capability by river

Improve navigation aids & information for safety travel

Encourage use of river transport in wet season instead of poor roads

Protect riverbanks from erosion


Collect information on the extent an nature of capture fisheries

Develop infrastructure & human resources in fisheries management

Promote development of aquaculture & regulate fishing activities

Urban water supply & water disposal

Increase amenities in urban areas by providing affordable & quality services in commercial water supply & sanitation

Rural water supply

Improve water supply & environmental health in rural areas

Focus on inaccessible, poverty - ridden areas

Encourage private water supply & sanitation ventures in easy - to - reach areas

Groundwater will be further developed as the main source of urban and rural water supply and small - scale irrigation in lowland areas far from surface water resources, such as southern and western Champassak province and the hinterlands of the Sebang Fai, Sebang Hieng and Sedone river valleys.

Water quality

Monitoring of water quality on the Mekong River and its tributaries is the responsibility of the water quality laboratory of the Department of Irrigation in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF). Monitoring began in 1985. At present there are 34 monitoring stations in operation: four on the Mekong and 15 on nine major tributaries. The remaining ten stations are at various locations potentially exposed to water quality degradation downstream of existing reservoirs and the That Luang wetland in Vientiane municipality. Water samples are usually collected monthly for chemical and biological analysis.

In general the water quality of rivers within the Lao PDR and the Mekong is considered good relative to global environment monitoring standards: the level of oxygen is high and the nutrient concentration is low. Sediment loads in the tributaries vary considerably from 41 tonnes/km2/year to 345 tonnes/km2/year. High levels of suspended sediment occur during the rainy season. Tributaries and river reaches with high sedimentation are the Sebang Hieng, Sedone, Nam Ou and the upper and lower stretches of the Mekong river.

The water and water resources law

The Water and Water Resources Law of 1996 defines principles, rules and measures in the administration, use and development of water and water resources. The law has 10 provisions and 49 articles focusing on the protection of water resources and watersheds, water resources planning and prevention of water pollution. Ministries active in water resources have been instructed to formulate ministerial regulations to reflect the intent of the law.

In setting the legal framework for water and water resources, government established the Water Resources Coordination Committee (WRCC) in April 1998 as a national apex body to improve coordination of multi - sectoral activities involving water use and to define and manage water allocations. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided the government with technical assistance in 1997 - 1998 to institutionally strengthen the WRCC. The vice - chairperson of STEA is the WRCC chairperson and representatives of seven organizations nominated by the Prime Minister’s office. The Minister of Agriculture and Forests is WRCC vice - chair, Ministry of the Interior, MCTPC, Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Justice, Lao National Mekong Committee (LNMC) and STEA. The WRCC has its own secretariat within STEA.

Water resources policy

There has been no clear overall water sector policy in the Lao PDR, but it could be gradually set up by augmenting and adjusting individual policies of water related sectors with the WRCC establishment. Government is further developing the legal and regulatory framework for water and water resources and for preservation of the environment to reduce conflicts between the sectors caused by development. The water - related sectors are hydropower, irrigation, navigation, fisheries, urban water supply and waste disposal, and rural water supply. The respective sector development policies related to water and water resources are briefly summarized below.


Proposed programmes and projects for land and water resource development




Strengthening LUP & LA & land titling in rural area

· Strengthen existing LUP/LA system through synthesis of macro - level planning based on national development goals micro - level planning based on local area development needs

· Improve monitoring & evaluation (M&E) of LUP/LA to encourage village management of agricultural, forestry & other resources

· Develop LUP/LA information storage procedure to facilitate future land titling & registration

· Networking of relevant government agencies in LUP/LA

· Development of National Implementation Plan based on criteria for prioritization

· Follow - up activities for LUP/LA villages

· Extension of field tested methodologies

· Implementation of training programme for national, provincial & district staff

· Refining M&E procedure

· Information storage system development

T/A on Nationwide Shared Water Resources Management

· Develop water use & distribution plan for agriculture, urban, industry & power sectors

· Monitor quality & quantity of water for different end - users

· Establish optimum water use among affected sectors.

· Establish adequate environmentally sustainable water resources development plans

· Provide adequate water & soil testing equipment & methodologies

Watershed Management Programme

· Sustain water resources for water related social & economic activities: hydropower, irrigation & fisheries

· Protect people & their properties & lands from floods & soil erosion

· Maintain sustainable agricultural production in all areas

· Establish procedures for integrated watershed management by development & implementation of watershed management plans where water projects have been developed or are planned

· Provide adequate water & soil testing equipment & methodologies

Agro Zone Classification, Land Management & Farming System Development

· Develop agro - zone classification maps

· Assist land use planning & cropping pattern

· Use remote sensing to help with land classification & land use.

· Expand land classification & crop suitability maps

· Establish feedback system for ground truthing to upgrade GIS data.

· Reconcile GIS & agriculture census data.

· Develop agro - zone classification maps

Soil & Water Conservation Technology Research Programme

· Develop appropriate technologies for soil & water management.

· Review completed & ongoing projects concerned with soil conservation

· Develop a soil technical support system

Irrigation Water

· Develop appropriate technologies for irrigation water management

· Develop irrigation water management system for lowland & upland crops.

· Research effective participatory irrigation water management.

· Provide technical staff training (on job & in - country research courses).

Rehabilitation & Expansion of Meteo - hydrology Stations for Agricultural Development & Flood Control

· Strengthen weather forecast for agriculture development, increase food crop production & flood forecasting to mitigate agricultural damage

· Rehabilate hydrometerogical stations including agro - meteorology stations & renewal of instrument/equipment.

· Build new hydrometereologal stations including agro - meteorological station.

· Provide modernized communication equipment

· Provide computer LAN system to upgrade collection - transferring - compilation - filing & analysis

· Improve weather & flood forecasting

· Build facilities to calibrate hydrological instrumentst & equipment test lab

· Institutional Improvement of operations & management

· Train DMH & Provincial Meteo - hydrology Office staff in participatory survey, planning, supervision of construction & overseas training

· Prepare educational programme for DMH & Provincial Hydromet Office

Support STEA for Environmental Friendly Agriculture Development

· Implement community based resource & land management groups

· Improved environmental data collection

· Assist formulating environmental impact regulations for agriculture, forestry & fisheries to support provincial environmental initiatives

· Promote community group formation

· Establish participatory data collection & analysis system

· Enhance reporting arrangements to STEA & agro - service industries.

Strengthening Weather Forecast System for Agriculture & Disaster Operation

· Secure agricultural production & mitigate disaster damage

· Build weather surveillance radar stations in northern & southern regions for real time tracking of tropic storms

· Construction of upper - air stations in Vientiane

· Upgrade weather & flood forecasting systems

· Install telecommunication system & establish network system

· Institutional improvement of operation & management

· Educational upgrading programme for DMH & provincial meteo - hydrological service office

Irrigation development


The history of Lao irrigation can be traced back several centuries in the northern mountains. These irrigation systems are based on primitive water intake made by logs, soil and/or stone, and have been managed well by communities. From the 1960s, modern irrigation systems with concrete weirs and well - designed canals have been built with technical and financial assistance from foreign donors. Lao irrigation is classified by region in three types: (i) community managed gravity irrigation in the northern mountains (with a range of service area from one to over 300 ha); (ii) pump irrigation in the Vientiane plain and (iii) recently introduced pump irrigation along the Mekong River where most of the plain is flood - prone.

Current progress of irrigation development

As of 1999/2000 there are 19 170 irrigation schemes with a service area of about 295 000 ha in the wet season and 197 000 ha in the dry season. The irrigation area in dry season has rapidly increased from 29 000 ha in 1996 to 197 000 ha in 2000. Most irrigation schemes are of traditional weir type in the northern and central regions where the mountains prevail, while pump irrigation is concentrated in the southern region.


Proposed programmes & projects for irrigation development




Community Managed Irrigation Sector Project - 2
(CMISP - 2)

· Increase agricultural production on sustainable basis

· Increase food security & incomes

· Improve watersheds by reducing shifting cultivation & promoting tree planting in northern rural areas though Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT)

· Select priority project from provinces

· Mobilize community to project activities

· Rehabilitate & develop community managed irrigation schemes

· Construct rural infrastructure including rural water supply & district feeder roads.

· Institutional & financial support including setting up village development

· Support income generating activities

Decentralized Irrigation Development & Management Project (DIDMP)
ADB & France financed)

· Facilitate full transfer of irrigation schemes to farmers as pilot schemes

· Assist users though WUA to organize/join in irrigation systems rehabilitation & O&M

· Provide appropriate extension services

· Rehabilitate existing schemes in cooperation with WUA

· Provide PAFS/DAFO capacity building

· Provide gender initiatives in development programmes

· Support VDF processor cost recovery

Agriculture Development Project (ADB) (WB financed)

· Enhance agricultural productivity & encourage crop diversification & thereby increase overall agricultural production

· Target small & low income subsistence farmer, to improve smallholder food security & increase rural incomes in sustainable manner

· Rehabilitate irrigation facilities

· Construct & rehabilitate village access tract

· Construct village water supply facilities

· Establish Village Investment Funds (VIF)

· Enhance agricultural services for institutional strengthening

· Project implementation support

TA on Accelerated IMT

· Establish a data base on existing irrigation schemes

· Establish a data base on potential community managed irrigation schemes

· Provide the necessary information & recommendation for accelerating & supporting irrigation

· Management transfer (IMT) process

· Inventory of existing irrigation schemes covering natural & human resources conditions, constraints & needs for improvement in agricultural production, irrigation area facility condition need & costs & other necessary information

· Inventory potential community managed irrigation schemes for natural & human resources conditions, agriculture

· Review & recommend schemas for management system including improved O&M, WUA capacity building, education & training of WUA members, IMT process & VDF management

· Prioritize existing schemes for rehabilitated, improved & potential schemes to be developed, prepared for short - medium - long term implementation

Community Managed Small-scale Irrigation Project

· Increase agricultural productivity though crop diversification & increase overall agricultural production on sustainable basis

· Increase food security & income

· Improve watersheds by reducing shifting cultivation & management in mountain areas

· Assist users though WUAs to organize to participate in rehabilitation or new construction & irrigation system O&M

· Provide appropriate extension service

· Rehabilitate existing schemes in cooperation with WUA

· Construct new irrigation schemes on a community participation basis.

· Implement IMT

· Provide capacity enhancement to PAFSs & DAFOs

· Provide systematic gender initiative in development programme

· Support VDF process for cost recovery

TA of Water Resources Development in Northern & Central Region

· Provide technical solutions & investment processes to stabilize rural agriculture & other sectors in northern & central regions, ensuring sufficient food in some areas & surpluses in others

· Study irrigation & domestic water resources, flood control, & environment in northern & central regions

· Prioritize projects & prepare implementation schedule

TAs for Best Irrigation Use of Exploited Water Resources for Diversified Agriculture Development Project

· Increase agricultural productivity, encourage crop diversification & thereby increase overall agricultural production on a sustainable basis.

· Increase food security & incomes though intensive farming systems

· Development study on medium & large scale irrigation schemes in cooperation with communities though best utilization of exploited/exploitable water resource development projects such as hydropower, water supply, flood control

· Study providing, building flood protection facilities for sustainable use of flood - prone areas

· Review & recommend management systems including improved O&M, WUA capacity building, education & training of WUA members, IMT process & VDF management

· Study providing appropriate extension services

· Study PAFS/DAFO capacity building

Best Irrigation Use of Exploited Water Resources for Diversified Agriculture Development Projects

· Increase agricultural productivity, encourage crop diversification to increase overall agricultural production on sustainable basis

· Increase food security & incomes through intensive farming systems.

· Rehabilitation & construction of medium & large scale irrigation schemes in cooperation with the community.

· Provision & construction of flood protection facilities for sustainable use of flood - prone sera

· Rehabilitate existing schemes in cooperation with WUA

· Implement IMT

· Provide appropriate extension services

· Provide PAFS/DAFO capacity building

· Support gender initiatives

· Support VDF management for sustainable project management.

Groundwater Irrigation Development & Management

· Promote high value commodity crops by best use of groundwater resources

· Investigae groundwater potential

· Provide pilot groundwater irrigation schemes

· Extend groundwater irrigation schemes link to rural development programmes

Technical Cooperation for Upland Crop Irrigation Engineering Center

· To extend research institutions to upland irrigated crops

· Construction of an upland crops irrigation engineering center & pilot areas

· Provide necessary data & research for development of upland crop farming.

· Establish training curricula to train concerned staff & farmers

Flood Disaster Mitigation

· Secure agricultural production & properties at flood - prone areas along Mekong River tributaries in wet season flooding

· Detail assessment of damaged area by wet season flooding

· Selecting priority areas

· Planning flood mitigation measures such as flood protection dykes, flood control gates, drainage pumps & other conceivable effective measures

· Rehabilitation & upgrading of flood protection facilities

· Rehabilitation & upgrading of existing river observatory system

An on - going major irrigation scheme is the Community Managed Irrigation Sector Project (CMISP) funded by ADB and OPEC. CMISP aims to improve more than 40 existing irrigation schemes in the central and northern regions. The communities are responsible for managing the improved facilities by organizing water user associations (WUAs). CMISP is expected to continue the project on a phased basis. Two similar schemes are to start in 2001: the Decentralized Irrigation Development and Management Sector Project (DIDMP) funded by ADB and France and the Agricultural Development Project (ADP) funded by the World Bank (WB). DIDMP is characterized as a pilot project exercising the IMP process, focusing on pump irrigation schemes in six selected provinces. ADP, covering four southern provinces, is really a rural development project including not only improvement of irrigation systems but also market oriented community development using village investment funds.

Irrigation management transfer (IMT)

Knowing that traditional irrigation systems have been efficiently managed by farmers’ communities and also as from economic necessity the government must reduce agricultural sector subsidies, it set up a policy to transfer ownership and associated costs of irrigation to farmer users. Encouraged by the SIRAP experience, the government issued Prime Minister’s Order No. 26/PM on transferring irrigation projects to community organizations (1998). The purposes of the decree are to: promote and support the role and responsibility of WUAs in the management of irrigation systems; assist in the reduction of the responsibilities of government agencies in the routine management of irrigation systems; ensure the smooth transition of the full transfer of ownership of all irrigation infrastructure to WUAs; and improve the efficiency of operations, management and water distribution on all irrigation systems.

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