Laos Table of Contents
At least 5 million hectares of Laos's total land area of 23,680,000 hectares are suitable for cultivation; however, just 17 percent of the land area (between 850,000 and 900,000 hectares) is, in fact, cultivated, less than 4 percent of the total area. Rice accounted for about 80 percent of cultivated land during the 1989- 90 growing season, including 422,000 hectares of lowland wet rice and 223,000 hectares of upland rice, clearly demonstrating that although there is interplanting of upland crops and fish are found in fields, irrigated rice agriculture remains basically a monoculture system despite government efforts to encourage crop diversification. Cultivated land area had increased by about 6 percent from 1975-77 but in 1987 only provided citizens with less than one-fourth of a hectare each, given a population of approximately 3.72 million in 1986. In addition to land under cultivation, about 800,000 hectares are used for pastureland or contain ponds for raising fish. Pastureland is rotated, and its use is not fixed over a long period of time.
In the early 1990s, agriculture remains the foundation of the economy. Although a slight downward trend in the sector's contribution to gross domestic product (GDP--see Glossary) was evident throughout the 1980s and early 1990s--from about 65 percent of GDP in 1980 to about 61 percent in 1989 and further decreasing to between 53 and 57 percent in 1991--a similar decrease in the percentage of the labor force working in that sector was not readily apparent. Some sources identified such a downward trend-- from 79 percent in 1970 to about 71 percent in 1991--but both the LPDR's State Planning Commission and the World Bank reported that 80 percent of the labor force was employed in agriculture in 1986. Available evidence thus suggests that the percentage of the labor force employed in agriculture in fact remained relatively steady at about 80 percent throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
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 preceding decade, despite two years of drought-- in 1987 and 1988--when production actually declined. Paddy rice production declined again in 1991 and 1992 also because of drought. By 1990 the World Bank estimated that production was growing at an increasingly faster rate of 6.2 percent. Increased production, long one of the government's goals, is a result in part of greater use of improved agricultural inputs during the 1970s and 1980s. The area of land under irrigation had been expanding at a rate of 12 percent per annum since 1965, so that by the late 1980s, irrigated land constituted between 7 and 13 percent of total agricultural land. Although still a small percentage, any increase helps to facilitate a continued rise in agricultural productivity. Smallscale village irrigation projects rather than large-scale systems predominate. Use of fertilizers increased as well, at an average annual rate of 7.2 percent; given that commercial fertilizer use had been virtually nonexistent in the late 1970s, this, too, is an important, if small, achievement in the government's pursuit of increased productivity. In addition, the number of tractors in use nearly doubled during the decade, from 460 tractors in 1980 to 860 in 1989.
Data as of July 1994