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Govt prioritises disaster recovery programme

Despite budget constraints, disaster recovery remains a top priority for the government to sustain growth in the agriculture sector and alleviate poverty in local communities.
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Bounkhuang Khambounheuang, told Vientiane Times this week that the government will allocate some of its budget to addressing impacts stemming from natural disasters, particularly flooding and drought.
Last year, the government allocated emergency funding of 40 billion kip to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and 115.5 billion kip for disaster recovery related programmes. 
The majority of this budget has been disbursed, and the rest is in the procurement stage for agricultural production projects, according to a government’s report.
“This year, our ministry has asked the government to approve a 20 billion kip budget so we can spend more on rebuilding agricultural infrastructure such as repairing irrigation systems,” Dr Bounkhuang said.
“We are also using our budget to produce and distribute crop seeds to farmers to enable them to grow crops and offset losses caused by weather extremes.”
Last year, Laos suffered the most costly floods in a decade, triggered by two tropical cyclones and compounded by the collapse of a dam at the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy hydropower plant in Attapeu province.
More than 600,000 people across the country were affected by the floods, and 64 people lost their lives, according to a recent World Bank report.
The floods not only destroyed infrastructure and health facilities as well as disrupted social services but also damaged farmers’ crops and increased debt levels, with 70 percent of households already in debt.
According to the World Bank, the total damages from last year’s flooding were estimated to reach US$371.5 million, equivalent to 2.1 percent of the country’s projected 2018 GDP, and 10.2 percent of Laos’ annual budget.
Recovery needs were estimated at US$520 million, so more funding is needed to operate disaster recovery-related projects.
This year, Laos is not only suffering from the effects of weather extremes but is also dealing with an outbreak of African swine fever. Likewise, the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) plague in Xayaboury has destroyed 30 percent of 35,000 hectares of maize in the province.
Economists are very concerned about the shortfall in Laos’ agricultural production this year which could affect prices and food security in the country.
Over the past four months, dry-season rice production amounted to only 453,230 tonnes, equal to just 10.3 percent of the target figure for the whole year, according to the government’s report.
In addition, the sweetcorn crop for animal feed is expected to yield 30,000 tonnes in this period, equal to only 3 percent of the annual plan.
Meanwhile, cassava production was expected to be 113,056 tonnes, only 4.9 percent of the amount targeted for the whole year.


By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update August 7, 2019)

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