FAO/WFP - SPECIAL REPORT - CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY ASSESSMENT MISSION TO LAOS - 2 NOVEMBER 1995

OVERVIEW

An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Laos between 4 and 14 October 1995 to forecast 1995 crop production, and estimate cereal import and food aid requirements for 1996. In addition to reviewing data provided b y the Government, the Mission held discussions with government, UN, NGO and donor representatives at central, provincial and district levels, regarding food supply, the flood situation, crop production, consumption requirements and other related as pects. The Mission visited five out of six areas affected by floods viz Vientiane Municipality, Vientiane Province, Bolikhamxay, Khammoaume and Savannakhet which account for almost three quarters of total lowland rice area in the country.

In July/August this year, excessive rainfall and the aftermath of typhoons Irwin and Louise, caused serious floods in central and southern Laos, resulting in the complete loss of 62 000 hectares of paddy. The floods also came too late to allow the replanting of rice. In addition, as parts of Bolikhamxay and Khammoaume have been affected by floods consecutively for the past 2-3 years, there are little food reserves in these areas. As the floods also seriously damaged or destroyed irrigation a nd drainage systems, required for the small area of dry season rice, little can be recouped from this crop.

The Government reacted swiftly to the flood emergency in requesting assistance from the international community. Missions from the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) and FAO/OSRO visited Laos in September to assess humanitarian needs and d amage to agricultural infrastructure respectively.

The outlook for rice, the main staple, has been severely affected by floods, and attacks by insects and rodents in certain areas. Six provinces in particular have been affected badly. Four of these,
Vientiane Municipality, Vientiane Province, Bolikhamxay and Khammouane face large shortages, with the other two traditional surplus areas, likely to have a reduced level of surplus. As little will be harvested this year, inhabitants of the six affe cted provinces will need emergency food assistance for varying periods up to 12 months, until the next harvest in October-November 1996.

The total national gap between expected rice supply and required utilization in 1996, is estimated to be 132 577 tons, with the six affected provinces accounting for about half, 69 730 tons, of the shortage. The worst affected people numbering 150 000 will need to be provided with emergency food assistance for 12 months and an additional 224 000 people for 6 months. On the basis of WFP rations of 144 kg of rice/annum per caput, this amounts to 37 728 tons of rice. However based on a normal p er caput requirement of 180 kg/annum, the required amount would be 47 160 tons. In view of the emergency and the need to provide at least the minimum requirement of food urgently, the mission recommends emergency food aid of 38 000 tons of rice. Do nor pledges, as of early October, amounted to 834 tons of rice. The balance yet to be covered, therefore, is nearly 37 200 tons.

As most of the people affected are already without supplies of rice and transportation is difficult, relief food distribution needs to be undertaken swiftly. A provision will also need to be made urgently for seed, as a result of the loss of produc tion on some 62 000 hectares.


FOOD PRODUCTION IN 1995

Rice
Rice is by far the most important foodcrop in Laos. Production is still at a subsistence level with glutinous rice the dominant crop. Due to low availability of inputs and a poorly developed transpor t system, agriculture remains low input/output, with lack of fertilizer and chemicals continuing to constrain production.

Rice is mainly produced under rainfed conditions in low lying areas along the Mekong River, where it is exposed to damage by inundation from river water in some years. In other years, inadequate rainfall may have an adverse effect on production. So me rice is also produced in the upland areas, on a shifting cultivation basis. Yields of this crop are directly related to the rotational pattern used, which are lower in the shorter rotational systems. Irrigated production is limited to some 3-5 p ercent of the total. Irrigation technology on the whole is of low standard due to the application of traditional methods such as brushwood diversion, etc. Only in a few areas has pump irrigation been developed.

Table 1: Forecast production by type of rice, 1995

AreaProduction
HectaresPercentTons (paddy)Percent
Rainy season
(lowland rice)
342 08365.61 098 77378
Upland rice166 62531.9260 52318.5
Irrigated rice13 0002.550 0003.5
TOTAL521 7881001 409 296100

Rice area and output in 1995, are likely to be well below the respective target of 627 000 hectares and around 1.72 million tons, set early in the season. This can be attributed to (i) too high a target set; (ii) loss of some 62 348 hectares due to floods; and (iii) yield estimates which are too optimistic and unattainable using present crop husbandry techniques.

The Mission estimated the output in the flood affected provinces to be between 9 and 49 percent lower than the target as a result of the flooding. Whilst the overall loss was about 20 percent, the most severe damage took place in Bolikhamxay (49 pe rcent), Vientiane Municipality (37 percent), Khammouane (32 percent) and Vientiane Province (23 percent). The remaining two provinces only reported damage of around 10 percent.

Other foodcrops
Maize is the second important foodcrop after rice, with production estimated at 56 000 tons from 28 000 hectares in 1994. Other crops include cassava/sweet potatoes 160 000 tons (15 000 hectares), vegetables 156 000 tons (16 500 hectares) and to a lesser extent crops like soyabean, mung bean, groundnuts, sugarcane and white sesame. While these other crops have a certain significance which differs from area to area, they still play a very minor role in the daily diet o f ordinary Loatians, who eat virtually nothing but sticky rice, occasionally using some fish sauce or chili as flavouring, but seldom eating fish, meat or vegetables. This season, several of these secondary foodcrops have also been affected by adve rse weather conditions and substitution of rice by other foodcrops may be insignificant.
Factors affecting rice production in 1995
Favourable weather conditions, early in the season, suggested that the area and production targets for rice could be achieved. However, excessive rainfall in July and August caused damage which was aggravated by two occurrences of tropical storms "Irwin" and "Loise". These storms passed near Laos, touching the Upper Basin of the Mekong River and the catchment areas of the Nam Ngum River. Severe flooding along both these rivers affected 39 dis tricts covering some 10 000 villages. It is estimated that 62 348 hectares of rice fields were totally destroyed.

Table 2: Lowland (rainfed) paddy - Area planted, flooded and damaged in the six affected provinces

Province
(ha)
Total area
(hectares)
Flooded area
(hectares)
Damaged area
(100 percent crop loss)
Vientiane Province33 52312 0387 613
Vientiane Municipality42 09718 56515 595
Bolikhamxay18 79113 4539 188
Khammouane41 78117 37813 498
Savannakhet93 23811 4148 432
Champassack76 55312 9708 022
TOTAL305 98385 81862 348

Table 2: Lowland (rainfed) paddy - Area planted, flooded and damaged in the six affected provinces (continued)

ProvincePercent of totalDamage (percent)
Vientiane Province12.223
Vientiane Municipality2537
Bolikhamxay14.749
Khammouane21.732
Savannakhet13.59
Champassack12.910
TOTAL10020.4

Government estimates of crop losses were carefully checked during field trips by the Mission. Evaluating crop condition and comparing data from the previous year, the conclusion drawn was that the effective average yield used by the Government of 3 .11 tons/ha for lowland paddy was too high. The Mission, therefore, calculated the average yield in each province over the past four years and used that to estimate lowland production to be harvested early in 1996. The production of upland rice app eared to be fairly normal. Although, diseases and pest attacks had occurred in certain areas they seemed to be containable. The production of irrigated rice was also normal. The total production of paddy expected in 1995 in the six flood affected p rovinces is 743 019 tons.

Table 3: Rice production in the six flood-affected provinces (tons)

ProvinceRainfed riceIrrigated and
upland rice
Total
production
Vientiane Province74 1036 93381 036
Vientiane Municipality75 00126 600101 601
Bolikhamxay23 71911 65335 372
Khammouane66 4654 40070 865
Savannakhet240 00114 959254 960
Champassack193 9435 242199 185
TOTAL673 23169 787743 019

There is a concern regarding the planting of the next irrigated crop. Due to the floods, there has been serious damage to irrigation structures and repairs and restructuring of these need to be completed in time for the next crop. An additional pro blem caused by this year's floods will be the lack of seeds for next year's planting of lowland rice.


SUPPLY/DEMAND ANALYSIS

Production
Based on a review of available data, field visits and discussions with Government officials and NGOs, the Mission revised estimates of paddy production and the anticipated shortfall in flood-aff ected provinces. Based on this revision, it is estimated that the country will produce 1.4 million tons of paddy this year, with the six affected provinces producing 743 019 tons. In view of a survey of government mills, indicating variation betwee n 60 percent and 66 percent, the recovery ratio of paddy to rice used is 62 percent against the usual 60 percent.

Rice accounts for some 75 percent of the total calorie intake of Loatians. The remaining 25 percent comes in various forms, including maize, root and tubers, vegetables, fish and meat. One underlying assumption in this exercise is that these other food items are available to meet 25 percent of the normal calorie intake, so that the calculation of shortfall in food availability relates to rice only. This assumption should broadly hold because while the availability of these other food items m ay also decline due to floods or droughts, people tend to intensify their efforts (e.g. catching fish, collecting forest products, catching game, growing vegetables) to improve access to other food items.

Stocks
The Government does not maintain stocks of rice or other cereals, at national, provincial and district levels for the purpose of food security. In most flood-affected areas there are no private stocks, due to extensive crop loss last year and, in some cases, the year before. In other parts of the country, where production in 1994 was favourable, some stocks may be carried by farmers who had surpluses last year. Some traders may also hold stocks. However, data on private stocks held by farmers or traders are not available. In any case, the level of such stocks is likely to be insignificant as paddy output last year was only sufficient to meet consumption, following a steeply reduced output in 1993.
Commercial Import of Rice
The Government decides how much rice is to be imported in a given year and issues respective licenses to private traders. Commercial imports are highly sensitive to border price changes and estimates of actual impo rts and projections of current year imports have to be revised on a regular basis given the large number of exogenous determinants. Given the lack of detailed information, the mission felt that the level of commercial imports last year, which amoun ted to 15 000 tons, was the safest estimate for imports in 1996. Imported rice, however, mostly goes to large urban areas such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Reportedly, some unofficial cross border trade in rice from Laos takes place in the northern and north-eastern parts of the country at harvest time. Similarly, some unofficial import of rice also reportedly takes place. However, no estimate of eith er flow is available.

Rice Requirement
The usual practice in Laos is to allow 180 kg of rice per person/annum or 493 g per person/day (which meets 75 percent of the average energy requirement - 2 338 Kcal/day). An FAO report "Diagnostic de la situation nutrition ale et consummation alimentaire au Laos" of October 1994 suggests that 2 338 Kcal is the requirement for a Laotian, on average. Hence this quantity has been used in calculating the required human consumption of rice in Laos in 1996. WFP uses an ave rage of 144 kg per person/annum or 394 g per person/day in its calculation of emergency food aid requirement for Laos.

Recent studies by FAO in the region, suggest that average post-harvest losses in rice production range between 13 and 15 percent of production. This assessment, therefore, uses the lower estimate of 13 percent, with an additional 3 percent allowed for seed and 2 percent for other uses.

The utilization of milled rice in 1996, calculated on the basis of the above parameters, therefore works out to be 845 000 tons for human consumption and 157 000 tons for post harvest losses, seed and other uses, giving a total of some 1 million to ns. The cereal balance sheet for Laos for 1995/96 is set out in Table 4, with surpluses/shortages by provinces shown in Table 5.

Table 4: Cereal Balance Sheet

Rice (tons)
1. 1995 production (projected)868 640
2. Stock drawdown-
3. Total availability (1+2)868 640
4. Food use844 560
5. Post harvest losses, seed and other uses156 657
6. Total utilization (4+5)1 001 217
7. 1996 Import requirement132 577
8. Commercial imports15 000
9. Food aid requirements117 577
of which:
Emergency food aid38 000
Programme and project food aid79 577

Table 5: Rice production and surplus/deficit by province, 1996

Province1996 population 1/Expected 1995 production
('000)Paddy 2/Rice (milled)
Phongsaly15642 64826 442
Luang Namtha11636 87522 863
Oudomxay21666 86241 454
Bokeo11638 82024 068
Luang Prabang37495 86059 433
Houaphanh25059 28036 754
Xayabouli29974 37346 111
Xieng Khouang20551 64032 017
Vientiane Municipa'lity* 546101 60162 993
Vientiane Province* 29381 03650 242
Bolikhamxay*16835 37221 931
Khammouane*28170 86543 936
Savannakhet*686254 960158 075
Khetphiset5516 55010 261
Salavane265130 60580 975
Sekong6511 3807 056
Champassack*512199 185123 495
Attapeu8933 12020 534
Total4 6921 401 032868 640

Table 5: Rice production and surplus/deficit by province, 1996 (continued)

ProvinceEstimated post-harvest
losses, seed and other uses
Estimated 1996
consumption
PaddyRice (milled)PaddyRice (milled)
Phongsaly7 6774 76045 29028 080
Luang Namtha6 6374 11533 67720 880
Oudomxay12 5197 76262 71038 880
Bokeo6 9874 33233 67720 880
Luang Prabang17 25510 698108 58167 320
Houaphanh10 6716 61672 58145 000
Xayabouli13 3878 30086 80653 820
Xieng Khouang9 2955 76359 51636 900
Vientiane Municipality* 18 28911 339158 51698 280
Vientiane Province*14 5879 04485 06552 740
Bolikhamxay*6 3673 94848 77430 240
Khammouane*12 7557 90881 58150 580
Savannakhet*45 89428 454199 161123 480
Khetphiset2 9791 84715 9489 900
Salavane23 51014 57676 93547 700
Sekong2 0481 27018 87111 700
Champassack*35 85322 229148 64592 160
Attapeu5 9613 69625 83916 020
Total252 675156 6571 362 193844 560

Table 5: Rice production and surplus/deficit by province, 1996 (concluded)

ProvinceProjected surplus(plus)/deficit(minus)1996
PaddyRice (milled)
Phongsaly-10 319-6 398
Luang Namtha-3 439-2 132
Oudomxay-8 368-5 188
Bokeo-1 845-1 144
Luang Prabang-29 976-18 585
Houaphanh-23 971-14 862
Xayabouli-25 821-16 009
Xieng Khouang-17 171-10 646
Vientiane Municipality*-75 203-46 626
Vientiane Province*-18 616-11 542
Bolikhamxay*-19 769-12 257
Khammouane*-23 471-14 552
Savannakhet*+9 905+6 141
Khetphiset-2 397-1 486
Salavane+30 160+18 699
Sekong-9 539-5 914
Champassack*+14 687+9 106
Attapeu+1 319818
Total-213 834-132 577

1/ Computed by using the average population growth rate for each province from 1995 census figures where available. For other provinces, the national average growth rate of 2.4 percent has been used.
2/ Figures for the six flood-affected provinces are Mission estimates, while the figures for the other provinces are those provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Lao PDR.
* Flood affect areas.


Coping mechanisms
The price of rice has risen steeply in 1995. For example, the average retail price of sticky rice in Savannakhet was 325 Kip per kg in August/September compared to 185 Kip in January 1995. The August/September 1995 ave rage price is also some 59 percent higher than in August 1994 (205 Kip/kg). One of the reasons for the price increase is the continuous fall in the value of the Kip from 720 to the U.S.$ last year to 920 in September/October 1995. However, rural pe ople have very little employment and income earning opportunities other than rice cultivation. Some vegetables are grown for both consumption and sale and in some areas small quantities of fish are caught and sold. Food-for-work, where it exists, i s another source of rural income and people in some roadside villages raise poultry and collect forest products such as firewood and tree oil for sale. However, these activities are insignificant in the context of needs. The ability of these people to purchase rice, therefore, remains very limited and hence the price of rice is not a very useful indicator of food security. Moreover, rice prices are currently very high and beyond the reach of most.

While the purchase of rice is generally not an option for most farm families, except a limited few who earn income from the activities noted above, they have various coping mechanisms. One of them is gathering and consuming wildlife and other produ cts from forests, such as rabbits, rodents, birds, roots, tubers, bamboo shoots and other items. However, due to deforestation and an increase in the number of people resorting to this course of action, it is becoming an increasingly difficult opti on to pursue. A second mechanism is to borrow from those within the village who may have surplus. This is regularly done and there is no interest to be paid. Sometimes rice is also borrowed from other villages, though this is subject to interest of 50 percent or more. In any event, such borrowing is only possible if a surplus exists with households in the villages. In the flood-affected areas this year, most of the households have no stocks of rice, so the option of borrowing is virtually no nexistent. Only when no other means are available, will households sell draught animals, (such as cattle and buffalo) in desperation. This year, unless food assistance is forthcoming in time, many households expect that they may be forced to sell a nimals.


FOOD AID NEEDS

Given the limited capacity of the Government to import rice commercially and the limited scope of households to cope with food shortages, the bulk of the food deficit in 1996 can only be met through international assistan ce. There is also an urgent need to rehabilitate infrastructure in agriculture, damaged by the recent floods, for which food aid may be used to expand UN food-for-work programmes.

However, immediate attention has to be focused on people in flood-affected areas, who suffered complete crop loss, have no food reserves and are desperate for assistance. The net deficit in these areas is estimated to be 69 730 tons of rice.

The number of people who need emergency food aid have been calculated as follows. It is assumed that the average land holding is one hectare and the average household size is six. Based on these assumptions, the total number of people affected is 3 74 087. Of this, 150 000 will need assistance for 12 months, as they have been affected by floods this year and in previous years and have no food reserves, with the remaining 224 000 requiring assistance for 6 months as a result of losses this yea r. Using the WFP standard food aid ration of 144 kg of rice per person/annum for Laos, the total quantity required is about 38 000 tons of rice. Had the normal annual requirement of 180 kg per caput been used, the quantity of rice needed would have been 47 160 tons. However, to ensure the minimum is provided as soon as possible, the Mission recommends emergency food aid of 38 000 tons of rice. This is a conservative estimate, and assumes that those households that only suffered losses this y ear, and not last year or the year before, either have some reserves from last year or can eke out enough food from forest products to pull themselves through six months.

The Mission finds that there is also a strong case for supplying the balance of the total deficit which amounts to 79 577 tons of rice to be used largely in food-for-work programmes for rehabilitating irrigation facilities and other agricultural st ructures extensively damaged by the floods this year and for market sales to arrest sharp increases in prices.


FOOD AID HANDLING CAPACITY OF THE GOVERNMENT

For the last year and a half, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare (MLSW) has been responsible for humanitarian aid, including food aid and emergency programmes. The bifurcation between the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, which is responsible for assessing food supplies/losses and the MLSW, which is responsible for gathering data on humanitarian needs and distributing relief aid in the past, has led to occasional breakdowns in communication. To overcome this, several years ago a pyramid of five-person Committees of Food Aid Reception were created, rising from the village level, through District and Provincial levels to the Centre. Senior officials at each level, repre senting various Ministries and/or Departments at each level are responsible for planning, operating and monitoring all food aid within their jurisdiction. At the village level, Committee members are usually elders of the village, elected members of the village council and/or more dynamic residents capable of record keeping and management of food resources. In most cases, the practical operation of these Committees is handled by one delegated person who has responsibility for all activities i ncluding liaison with WFP, NGOs, if any, and suppliers, as well as the public.

Naturally, in a country as diverse as Laos, capacity varies, with the best Committees able to handle almost unlimited quantities of aid without much assistance, and others requiring some training and a greater degree of supervision.

The Government is now enumerating the number of people affected by village, and estimating the length of time (e.g. 12 months or 6 months) they will lack food. The exact plan of distribution and priorities will be drawn up once that information is available.

Past experience suggests that in many provinces, NGO involvement in emergency food distribution can be useful as members of the civil service can not devote much time and attention to an emergency operations, due to other responsibilities.


MEDIUM AND LONGER TERM MEASURES

This Mission reaffirms the recommendation of the 1994 FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Laos that there is need for certain medium and longer term measures to improve agriculture and food security in the country. The following activities are suggested.

In addition to rehabilitating irrigation facilities and other agricultural structures, resulting from the recent floods, there is scope and need to develop further small scale irrigation to expand irrigated rice production. Assistance for this acti vity should be rewarding for both Lao PDR and the donors by reducing the country's food vulnerability.

At present, seeds of varying quality are being used widely. Certification and ensuring the availability of quality seeds, would therefore be an important intervention to raise productivity. A lack of employment opportunities during the off-season in agriculture, remains a crucial problem, which affects the food security of rural people. Programmes aimed at generating off-farm employment through food-for-work and special training and credit schemes deserve attention. Some of these activities may also be combined with the development of agricultural infrastructure to ensure greater impact on food security.

Non-availability of reliable and up-to-date data, crucial for planning and emergency assessment, remains a major bottleneck. An FAO project "Strengthening Agricultural Statistics (TCP/LAO/4452T)" aims to improve the agricultural database in four pr ovinces on a pilot basis. Given that the Government's capacity in agricultural statistics is very limited, further assistance in this field is encouraged. Another FAO pilot project "Development of National Food Security Programme (GCPS/RAS/140/ITA( LAO))" aims to improve systems of generating food information, monitoring and forecasting. As the government is also aware of the need to develop such capacity, it is recommended that the assistance being provided be further encouraged.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources and is for official use only. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further inform ation if required.

Abdur RashidB. Szynalski
Chief, ESCG, FAODirector, OP, WFP
Telex 610181FAO ITelex: 626675 WFP I
Fax: 0039-6-5225-4495Fax: 0039-6-5228-2837
E-mail: INTERNET: GIEWS1@FAO.ORG


Return to Menu