In Laos, a scheme to improve irrigation and control flooding is underway. It's aimed at?
In Laos, a scheme to improve irrigation and control flooding is underway. It's aimed at making the country self-sufficient in rice, the country's principal crop and staple diet.
SYNOPSIS: The main effort is concentrated on the lowlands around the capital, Vientiane. The largest project is the Nam Soung River scheme, being built here, 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Vientiane.
A team of Lao army engineers is in charge of the project...which is part of an overall plan to build seven earth dams in the hill ranges that lie on the western edge of the Vientiane Plain...through which flows the Mekong River. A large proportion of the country's three and a half million people live in the area...and almost all are farmers, dependent on their rice crop.
Last year, the area was badly affected by floods. The Mekong River, swollen by heavy rain, burst its banks. Neighbouring Thailand, which borders the river, was also affected by the floods. The rice cro was severely hit, and an estimated 125,000 tonnes were lost.
The loss of the rice crop from the flood-damaged areas meant that the country was threatened with famine. Until this year's harvest, in October, Laos will have to import about 77,000 tonnes to meet the shortfall. It had to import rice last year, when a drought badly affected the 1977 crop. For the Lao authorities, the disasters emphasised the need for a scheme to control flooding and prevent drought in the main rice-producing areas.
Now, the Nam Soung project, which includes a 68 kilometres (42 miles) irrigation canal, is a third of the way towards being completed. When finished, by the end of next year,five hundred families will move into the area...to form five co-operative villages. The amount of land available for wet-rice farming is being extended...but, more importantly, the reservoir that is being created will be able to supply a continuous flow of water during the dry season....so that farmers will be able to grow two crops of rice, instead of the present one a year. This system, known as double-cropping, is being extended to other areas, and is expected to provide the most significant boost to rice-production in Laos.
The entire Vientiane plain scheme is expected to take at least 15 years to complete. International experts, and the Laotian government--who are pushing agricultural development -- expect the country to be self-sufficient in food by 1980, and a rice exporter soon after that ....well before the Vientiane scheme is completed.