Learn about Agriculture in Laos

Laos, a country in Southeast Asia, has a land mass of 23.68 million hectares, of which at least 5 million hectares are suitable for farming (about 21 percent). In Laos, agriculture is the most significant economic sector. Five million of Laos’ total land area—23,680,000 hectares—are suitable for cultivation, and as of the early 1990s, seventeen percent of the land—between 850,000 and 900,000 hectares—was under cultivation. The primary crop grown during the rainy season is rice.

During the 1989–1990 growing season, 422,000 hectares of lowland wet rice and 223,000 hectares of upland rice made up nearly 80% of the cultivated land. This illustrates that irrigated rice production is mostly a monoculture system despite government efforts to encourage crop variety, even though there is interplanting of upland crops and fish are found in fields.

Except for the Vientiane plain and the lowlands in the Mekong Valley, only a small area of land can be used for agricultural agriculture during periods of variable weather. These agricultural zones can be found in the plateau regions of Xieng Khouang in the north and the Bolovens in the south, or the valleys created by the rivers.

Agriculture was the backbone of the economy in the early 1990s. A similar decline in the proportion of the labor force employed in that sector was not immediately apparent, despite a slight downward trend in the sector’s contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) being visible throughout the 1980s and early 1990s—from roughly 65 percent of GDP in 1980 to about 61 percent in 1989 and further decreasing to between 53 and 57 percent in 1991. 

According to some accounts, there was a decline in this percentage from 79 percent in 1970 to roughly 71 percent in 1991. According to the State Planning Commission of the LPDR and the World Bank, agriculture accounted for 80% of employment in 1986. Thus, the information at hand points to the fact that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the proportion of the labor force employed in agriculture was roughly constant at 80%.

Despite a population of about 3.72 million people in 1986, the amount of land that was cultivated increased by only about 6% between 1975 and 1977, giving each person in 1987 less than a quarter of a hectare of land. About 800,000 hectares of land are utilized for pastureland or have ponds where fish are raised in addition to the land that is under cultivation. The use of pastureland is not constant over a lengthy period of time and is rotated.

Even though there were two years of drought—in 1987 and 1988—when production actually decreased, and even though paddy rice production decreased again in 1991 and 1992 due to drought, agricultural production grew at an average annual rate of between 3 and 4 percent between 1980 and 1989, almost double its growth rate in the decade before. By 1990, the World Bank estimated that production was growing at an increasingly faster rate of 6.2 percent. 

Since 1965, the area of land irrigated has been growing at a pace of 12 percent a year, and by the late 1980s, irrigated land made up between 7 and 13% of all agricultural land. Even a slight percentage gain makes it possible for the agricultural output to keep rising. Large-scale systems are less common than small-scale village irrigation schemes. Considering that commercial fertilizer use had been essentially nonexistent in the late 1970s, the use of fertilizers also increased, at an average yearly rate of 7.2 percent; this is also significant if modest, accomplishment in the government’s quest for higher productivity. From 460 tractors in 1980 to 860 tractors in 1989, the number of tractors in use then doubled during the decade.

The top 5 crops in Laos in terms of agricultural production in tons are rice, vegetables and beans, sugarcane, starchy roots, and tobacco. Vegetable and bean output has increased in percentage terms the fastest since 1990 among these 5 major crops, with sugarcane coming in second. The production of rice has increased by 47.9 percent in the ten years after 1990. Mung beans, soybeans, peanuts, cotton, sugarcane, coffee, and tea are among the agricultural items that are frequently grown as cash crops.

Lao agriculture is primarily subsistence-based, hence it has not had a significant impact on the nation’s exports. Timber, lumber, plywood, and coffee are the main agricultural exports from Laos. Long-grain rice, sugar, and condensed milk are the three main agricultural imports.

Many urban residents have rural roots, and gardening is very popular in Laos. In order to augment their meager financial incomes, some urban inhabitants keep gardens, little fish ponds, or keep livestock. They might also hunt, go fishing in the Mekong River, and harvest wild delicacies. During the dry season, some city dwellers in the capital city of Vientiane grow gardens alongside the Mekong River.

Over 60% of the country’s arable land is devoted to the cultivation of rice, which is a crucial staple food. Only about 11% of the nation’s rice is grown in highland regions; the majority is produced in lowland regions. Along the Mekong River are many of the top rice-producing regions (e.g., Vientiane, Khammouan, Bolikhamxai, Savannakhet, Salavan, and Champasak). Rice farms often only cover an area of 1-2 hectares (2.5-4.9 acres).

Robusta and Arabica are the two main varieties of coffee grown in Laos. Robusta is mostly used to make normal coffee and is a popular coffee beverage in Laos where condensed milk is added to sweeten it. The latter, Arabica, is used to make espresso and is of superior quality due to its mild flavor. 5,000 tons of Laos’ 20,000 tons of annual coffee production are Arabica beans, while 15,000 tons are Robusta.

In 1990, important crops other than rice were grown on approximately 150,000 hectares, up from 80,000 hectares in 1980. Cardamom, which is occasionally categorized as a forestry product, coffee, corn, cotton, fruit, mung beans, peanuts, soybeans, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and vegetables are some of the main non-rice products.

The only crop that is regularly grown for export is coffee. The area dedicated to these crops expanded from 10% of the total cropped area in 1980 to around 18% in 1990, despite the fact that it is still relatively small compared to the area devoted to rice. Although the rise partly reflects the decline in rice output during the years of drought, it also shows some progress in the government’s efforts to diversify its agricultural base.