Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Over 111 000 people in need of food assistance in central and southern Laos

Over 111 000 people in need of food assistance in central and southern Laos
Late June 2010, in Kammouanne province, Boualapha district, farmers could not prepare their land due to lack of rainfall.

Vientiane/Bangkok, 22 Mar 2011 -- Thousands of families in central and southern Laos require both immediate and medium term assistance, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said today. These food-insecure people were affected by the late 2009 typhoon Ketsana, the 2010 drought lasting throughout June and subsequent localized flash floods in Lao PDR.

According to a joint Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) by the two UN agencies, the affected population, estimated at more than 111 000 people, requires immediate external support to alleviate rice shortages until the main wet season rice harvest in October 2011. Overall food aid requirements for 2011 are estimated at over 4 000 metric tons of rice.

“In 2010, large parts of Lao PDR experienced a prolonged dry period at the beginning of the 2010 main paddy cropping season. Many farmers had to re-sow their rice several times, and even then a large part of the rice was transplanted late, leading to lower yields”, explained Serge Verniau, FAO Representative in the Lao PDR.

“Later in the season, localized flooding meant many families lost their crop. The impact is particularly grave in the south, where communities are still struggling with the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana”, added Eri Kudo, WFP Representative in the Lao PDR.

At 3 million tons, expected national paddy production for 2010/11 (wet season of 2010 and dry season of 2010/11) will be approximately 6 percent lower than 2009/10. Both paddy and upland yields were lower this year than last year. Rice import requirements in 2011 are estimated at 38 000 metric tons.

Both FAO and WFP expressed special concerns for the most vulnerable groups – people who on top of poor harvests are struggling with a low income – who are currently facing unusually high prices for rice and other basic foods. Rice prices on local markets peaked at a very high level in August and September last year, and have remained at higher levels than expected, even after the harvest.

Other CFSAM Results and Recommendations
Crop diversification for food security - Twenty or 30 years ago, communities used to grow a wider range of food crops for household consumption than they do now. With the government’s narrow focus, in recent years, on increased paddy production as the way to increase food security, this diversity has been lost to a certain extent. The potential for diverse crop production in Lao PDR is great. Advantage should be taken of it to ensure that other acceptable food crops are available when supplies of rice are low.

Dry-season irrigation - Attempts to increase dry-season irrigated paddy production are already being made by the Government of Laos, but would benefit from assistance with wells, pumps, diversion weirs and small dams.

Grain storage - Grain losses in village granaries can be quite high. Many granaries are not protected from rats and other pests, suggesting that many farmers would benefit from educational projects in the general area of grain storage.

Veterinary surveillance and care - Villagers in more remote areas frequently report that the response to their reporting of livestock problems could be improved. Livestock mortality in some localities can be improved through further training and better equipping of veterinary officers.

Crop-production data collection - The Lao Census of Agriculture 2010-2011, launched at the end of 2010, is a major step forward in terms of upgrading the data available on agriculture in Lao PDR, and will be a valuable resource in the years to come. Uniform procedures should be put in place to keep the census updated every six months, with special attention to improving data consistency between central and regional level.

Background on food security in Lao PDR - The Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment (CFSVA), 2007
The WFP CFSVA analysis showed that only one-third of the rural population in Lao PDR have enough food to eat throughout the year, and a substantial proportion of rural households continue to experience chronic or short-term food insecurity. Two-thirds of the rural households are at risk of becoming food insecure should one or more shocks, such as natural disasters or pest outbreaks, occur in a year. Most people in rural Lao PDR rely on subsistence agriculture, paid labour in agriculture, or a combination of both, to make a living.

A variety of factors contribute to household food insecurity, including: limited access to land for cultivation, loan repayment obligations, high food prices, and high vulnerability to natural disasters. In addition, poor road conditions can make access to markets difficult, especially in the rainy season.

While village resettlement often moves communities closer to markets and services, it can also change livelihood opportunities, sometimes resulting in households’ diminished availability of food, or increased travel time to the fields. Equally, as commercial agriculture expands, some households have made a complete transition to paid labour. This is an important development in the rural context, and requires a fuller review than the 2010 CFSAM assessment affords.

Finally, Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. Contamination with unexploded ordnance (UXO) still affects 15 Lao provinces. UXO continues to cause death and injury and prevents the use of land for agriculture and animal husbandry, and is therefore a major obstacle to food security in affected areas.

FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM)
Prompted by concerns about a very weak start of the rainy season in several parts of Lao PDR (and in much of the surrounding region) – followed by excessive rainfall and flooding in several areas later in the season – the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) requested a joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to evaluate the 2010 main paddy crop, forecast the 2011 irrigated crop and assess the overall food situation, import requirements and food aid needs, if any, for the 2010/11 marketing year.

International members of the mission arrived in Vientiane on 16 November, and the de-briefing of government and international organizations took place on 6 December 2010. The last such joint FAO/WFD mission had taken place in 2001, following serious regional flooding.

In addition to the immediate food assistance recommendations listed above, the mission also made a number of recommendations for addressing food security in Lao PDR in the medium term.

Contact

FAO: Charlotte Spinazze Charlotte.Spinazze@fao.org
+856 (0)21 413 205, 414 503 ext 108

WFP: Cornelia Patz Cornelia.Patz@wfp.org
+856 (0)21 330 300. 330301 ext 2340