Lao markets eyeing more agricultural imports

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Laos may have to import more agricultural produce to meet the growing demand for fresh fruit and vegetables.

The Aussie Lao fresh market in Sikhottabong district, which is one of the largest markets in Vientiane, may have to sell more imported products, market authorities told Vientiane Times yesterday.

Last year, the market imported 15 per cent of the produce it sold from Thailand and 15 per cent from Vietnam, while some produce came from other provinces in Laos.

Most of the items imported were tomatoes, eggplant, chillies, limes, onion, garlic, fruit and some other vegetables.

Although Lao growers supply about 70 per cent of the produce sold in local markets, consumers still pay more compared to Thailand and Vietnam.

People earning middle level and high incomes tend to cross the border into Thailand to shop, while some buy goods to sell in Laos, according to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.

Domestic producers and entrepreneurs have not been able to compete with imported products and struggle to expand their operations.

Many farmers have given up growing vegetables and other crops and taken jobs in factories instead. Or they have switched to some form of trade or other jobs after they were unable to make a profit from farming. Many have also been hit hard by weather extremes.

Some agricultural land has been used to build houses and for other construction projects.

But agricultural production in the first six months of this year is growing, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Agricultural produce, especially vegetables, have yielded 1.19 million tonnes, an increase of 19 per cent compared to the same period last year.

The growth rate in agriculture is expected to achieve the target of 2.8 per cent set for this year if there is no natural disaster.

The agriculture, forestry and rural development sectors expanded slowly in 2017 due to extreme weather, damage to irrigation systems, and locust outbreaks.

To reach this year’s target, the government, especially the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, will continue to implement projects of national priority such as commercial-scale production and ensuring food security.

The government will also encourage farmers to use modern techniques that are more productive, and to grow a wider variety of crops that are cultivated in clean and sustainable ways.

Agriculture continues to play a major role in the economy and last year the sector contributed 15.73 per cent.