24 December 1996


An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited the Lao People’s Democratic Republic from 12 to 22 November to review the outcome of the main 1996 paddy crop and estimate national import and food aid requirements for the 1996/97 marketing year. The evaluation is based on discussions with Government Ministries and Departments and on field visits to three flood affected provinces: Savannakhet, Khammouane and Bolikhamxay.

Low and irregular rainfall in June/July delayed transplanting of paddy affecting crop growth, whilst a series of typhoons off the coast of Vietnam in September, brought torrential rains causing landslides in upland areas and widespread flooding in major rice producing areas in the lowlands of Central and Southern Region. Six provinces were significantly affected, accounting for nearly 94 percent of losses in rice. Amongst these, the provinces of Khammouane, Savannakhet and Champasack were the most affected and now face large shortages. These are important agricultural provinces, with Khammouane being self-sufficient and Savannakhet and Champasack surplus-producing in normal years, without floods

It is estimated that as a result of losses on some 76 000 hectares of paddy this year, the output of milled rice in 1996/97 will amount to only 836 000 tons. As the country has no carryover stocks, only this amount of grain will be available for utilization in the 1996/97 marketing year. Against this the country requires some 864 000 tons for food alone and approximately 1.02 million tons for total utilization, leaving an overall import requirement of over 179 000 tons. Assuming that 25 000 tons would come in the form of commercial imports, similar to last year, the overall deficit amounts to 154 000 tons, with which the country needs assistance. Of this amount, it is recommended that 43 000 tons be provided as emergency assistance for 420 000 people who have been affected by floods and have no food reserves on which to rely. The worst affected people, those who lost their harvest for two consecutive years, are estimated to number 177 000. They will need to be provided with emergency food aid for 12 months whilst an additional 243 000 people will need assistance for 6 months. As of 22 November, donor pledges amounted to 3 800 tons of rice, leaving a balance of 39 200 tons to be covered by additional emergency food aid.

Due to climate and infrastructural limitations, the distribution of relief food needs to be undertaken as soon as possible.


Rice is by far the most important crop grown, occupying some 93 percent of total area under cereal cultivation. Although the crop is mostly grown under rainfed conditions in lowland and upland areas, a small proportion of production (3 - 4 percent) normally comes from the dry season irrigated crop. Short, medium and long duration varieties are all grown, depending on location and the onset of rains. All three varieties are normally cultivated in one area to spread the risk of seasonal drought or flood damage. Low input use and frequent setbacks from drought, floods or pests, invariably affect yields and overall production.

2.1 Area cultivated and harvested

In 1996 a total of 604 499 hectares of rainfed paddy were cultivated. Of this floods and pests caused the loss of an estimated 76 403 hectares, reducing the area harvested to around 528 000 hectares, some 3.3 percent lower than in 1995 and the lowest since 1980. Observations during field visits to affected areas in Central and Southern Regions indicated that most of the rice crop had either been submerged for long periods (for up to two weeks) and hence had been completely lost, or had survived the flooding but had only produced weak tillers, unfilled spikelets and poor quality grain.

2.2 Yields

The average yields used for wet season lowland and upland paddy, which were similar to MOA's estimates from crop cutting surveys in 1995, were 1.85 tons/ha and 1.57 tons/ha respectively. Based on field observations and interviews with farmers, the mission noted, however, that overall yields ranged from zero in areas completely damaged by floods, to 0.9 - 1.2 tons/ha in partially damaged areas and 1.8 - 2.25 tons/ha, in areas not affected by floods.

2.3 Production and Losses

Based on estimates of average yield, area harvested and lost and projected production of irrigated (dry season) rice next year, total paddy production in 1996/97 is forecast at 1.35 million tons. (Table 1)

Table 1: Estimated 1996/97 Paddy Production by Region

Lowland Upland Irrigated Total
Regions Production (tons) Production (tons) Forecast for 1997 1/ (tons) Production (tons)
Northern Region 197 538 189 385 6 296 393 219
Phongsaly 14 140 22 075 65 36 280
Louang Namtha 22 639 18 092 210 40 941
Oudomxay 27 063 40 194 260 67 517
Bokeo 22 284 11 928 1 34 213
Luang Prabang 25 481 53 002 2 970 81 453
Houaphanh 27 836 24 607 940 53 383
Xayabouli 58 095 19 487 1 850 79 432
Central Region 546 794 42 227 43 108 632 129
Xiengkhouang 38 717 14 040
52 757
Vientiane province 97 337 4 426 4 150 105 913
Vientiane prefecture 124 350 1 259 27 250 152 859
Bolikhamxay 38 792 11 137 45 49 974
Khammouane 47 832 2 257 4 060 54 149
Savannakhet 190 825 6 000 7 600 204 425
Khetpiset -Saysomboun 8 941 3 108 3 12 052
Southern Region 296 285 25 204 1 791 323 280
Salavane 106 661 12 528 340 119 529
Sekong 3 577 5 335 135 9 047
Champasack 164 549 3 789 1 300 169 638
Attapeu 21 498 3 552 16 25 066
TOTAL 1 040 617 256 816 51 195 1 348 628

1/ Based on 5 years (1991-1995) average yield and anticipated area.

2.4 Other Foodcrops

Maize, starchy roots, soybeans/mung beans and vegetables are other foodcrops which are commonly grown in small areas, mostly in rice-based cropping systems. Annual maize production averages 56 000 tons (1991-1995), though production in 1996 was expected to be about 73 000 tons. About 60 percent of the maize crop is produced in the Northern Region and the remaining 40 percent in Central and Southern Regions. The production of starchy root crops (mainly cassava and sweet potato) is evenly distributed throughout the country. Production of these is expected to be around 125 000 tons in 1996. In addition an output of 9 500 tons of beans and 117 000 tons of vegetables is expected.


3.1 Food Supply and Demand Balance for 1996/97

In deriving the cereal balance sheet for 1996/97, the mission used the following assumptions and estimates;

Table 2: Cereal Balance Sheet 1996/97 (000')1/
Total availability 836
1996/97 production 836
Opening stocks -
Total utilization 1 015
Food use 864
Seed, losses and other uses 151
1997 Import requirement 179
Commercial imports 25
Food aid requirements 154
of which: Emergency food aid 43
Programme and project food aid 111

1/ Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand.

3.2 Rice Consumption Requirement and Availabilty by Region

Marked regional variations exist in food requirement for rice and availability in respective reqions. In the 1996/97 marketing year, the overall defict in rice for food in the country will amount to over 161 000 tons. Over half the deficit will be in the Central Region, with the Northen Region accounting for a further 47 percent. (Table 3).

Table 3: Rice Consumption Requirement and Availability 1996/97

Population1/ (1.3.97) Rice consumption requirement 2/ Rice availability3/ Surplus(+)/Deficit (-)4/
Northern Region 1 557 280 260 204 789 -75 471
Phongsaly 159 28 620 18 895 -9 725
Louang Namtha 118 21 240 21 322 82
Oudomxay 221 39 780 35 163 -4 617
Bokeo 116 20 880 17 819 -3 061
Luang Prabang 383 68 940 42 421 -26 519
Houaphanh 254 45 720 27 801 -17 919
Xayabouli 306 55 080 41 368 -13 712
Central Region 2 290 412 200 329 161 -83 039
Xiengkhouang 209 37 620 27 476 -10 144
Vientiane province 300 54 000 55 160 1 160
Vientiane prefecture 565 101 700 79 609 -22 091
Bolikhamxay 172 30 960 26 026 -4 934
Khammouane 287 51 660 28 149 -23 511
Savannakhet 700 126 000 106 464 -19 536
Khetpiset -Saysomboun 57 10 260 6 277 -3 983
Southern Region 953 171 540 168 363 -3 177
Salavane 272 48 960 62 250 13 290
Sekong 67 12 060 4 712 -7 348
Champasack 523 94 140 88 347 -5 793
Attapeu 91 16 380 13 054 -3 326
TOTAL 4 800 864 000 702 313 -161 687

1/ Mission calculation based on 1995 population census and reported growth rate.
2/ Based on government report of 180 kg/person/year.
3/ Net availability after seed and post harvest losses of 16 percent and milling rate of 62 percent.
4/ Does not include uses other than food use.


Production of rice, the main staple, will be insufficient to feed the country in the coming year. In terms of food availability, 1997 will be much worse than any recent year, as floods occurred principally in the ‘rice-basket’ of the country resulting in a greater loss of area under cultivation than either last year or 1991, the previous benchmark for heavy damage.

Estimates of overall crop loss aggregated at the provincial and district levels, may be misleading in calculating food aid needs, as per caput figures derived from aggregated data may disguise serious pockets of shortages. The best proxy of emergency food needs, therefore, is based on land holdings and average family size for lowland cultivators in southern Laos. A conservative [ 'Conservative' as the actual average derived from the census is 6.2 members per family.] estimate of food aid can be derived based on the assumption that the average family of six people farms one hectare of land and lives entirely from this production. This assumption is widely accepted and has been used in previous appeals.

Many of the farmers in affected districts can only produce sufficient grains for consumption needs in good years, whilst in bad years, setbacks such as floods can seriously erode household food security. In 1995 floods seriously affected the provinces of Khammouane and Bolikhamxay and parts of Savannakhet and Champassak. Khammouane province has been affected by flooding for three years continuously and in four out of the past six.

In estimating the number of people requiring food assistance, the following derivations were used:

(1) An estimate of the area on which losses occurred two years in succession multiplied by the average household size of six. These households are assumed to have no reserves and will, therefore, require food assistance for 12 months. In this category the area affected is calculated as being 29 486 hectares and the number of people 177 000.

(2) In addition to (1), the rice crop on a further 40 500 hectares was also lost. However, as this area was not flooded last year, households are assumed to have at least some reserve, though these are very likely to be exhausted by early next year. The number of people falling into this category, therefore, is estimated at 243 000 (40 500 x 6). The mission estimates that this number of people will need , at the very least, six months supply of food assistance.

The estimate under (2) is conservative as:

The minimum food requirements are therefore:

The total food requirement to meet these needs amounts to 43 000 tons.

The Mission uses the word "minimum" advisedly because, as noted above, it is extremely unlikely that many in the second category (flooded only in 1996) have reserves from last year, much less to cover six months Until May 1997, when rice cultivation for the next monsoon crop begins, those who lost more than half their crop this year will have to rely on 'forest products'. The figure is also conservative in that it takes into account only those hectares that produced absolutely no grain and ignores areas inundated for periods less than a week which have stunted plants that will produce only a fraction of the normal yield.

The Government, with no significant tax base and no rice stocks of its own (all rice is now in private hands and modest farm taxes are no longer paid in kind), cannot purchase rice for these affected areas and cannot afford the considerable transport costs involved in moving rice in a country with almost no roads.

As much as possible, food aid coming through WFP channels will be utilized in food-for-work activities aimed at disaster prevention and mitigation in the affected communities: dike and drainage facility construction and the facilitation of dry season cultivation through irrigation (reducing dependency on unreliable monsoon rains).

Because of the unique combination of climatological and infrastructural conditions that exist in Laos ( an unreliable and unpredictable monsoon, the incursion of typhoon from the gulf of Tonkin, no road network and no paved roads at all in the southern provinces) any Emergency Operation that may be mounted to alleviate these needs must be undertaken swiftly. In the most urgent cases, the remote areas of districts not touched by Route 13, ( the only main artery in the entire country --- that is not paved at all in the affected provinces) if food is to be delivered to affected communities before monsoon rains cut them off from supply sources. Rice must start moving before the monsoon sets in full force in May.

4.1 Food aid handling capacity of the government

The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare continues to be responsible for humanitarian aid, including food aid and emergency programmes. Close collaboration exists with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in the assessment of losses to national food production. Committees in charge of planning, operating and monitoring food aid operations are still in place at the various administrative levels, from the village to the centre. It can be anticipated that future food aid operations will be handled along the lines established for such previous operations.

As already recommended by the 1995 Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, the involvement of NGOs in emergency food distribution may be sought at the province and district level.

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 information if required.
Abdur Rashid J. Schulthes
Chief, GIEWS FAO Regional Director, OAP, WFP
Telex 610181 FAO I Telex: 626675 WFP I
Fax: 0039-6-5225-4495 Fax: 0039-6-5228-2863

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