Readers’ Fund recipient working to increase rice harvest in Laos


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More than 30 years after gaining independence, Laos still needs support from developed countries.

While reforestation is the No. 1 project in Laos, which boasted vast tropical forests until the 1960s, the Southeast Asian country is now facing a food shortage.

The nongovernmental organization Japan International Volunteer Center, which is engaged in humanitarian aid in 10 developing countries, including Laos, has been providing aid to restore forests and improve lives of Laotians since 1989.

The NGO, a regular recipient of The Japan Times Readers’ Fund, received ¥170,979 from the fund to train Laotians in agriculture this year, and the newspaper is currently soliciting donations from readers to support similar activities by the group.

The money distributed this year included transportation and other costs for a Laotian to study at the Asian Rural Institute in Tochigi Prefecture, a school designated to train Asians in agriculture.

“Preserving forests is very meaningful, but producing food is also essential. Now prices of chemical fertilizer and gas are high, and Laotians don’t have enough rice,” JVC spokeswoman Chiho Kawai said.

Most farmers have no rice to eat between June and August most years, she said. The meager harvests are a result of poor-quality soil, and it is important for the farmers to acquire technology to boost their productivity, she said.

To help increase the food supply, the NGO will provide support to enhance agricultural development in Savanakhet Province. The project started last April and will end in March.

Last year, the group’s work included restoring forests that were lost during the chaos since gaining independence from France in the 1970s.

This year, JVC couldn’t do much reforestation work because the government was late in registering ownership of forests, Kawai said, noting work cannot start until forest registration is done.

Deforestation in Laos has accelerated in recent years.

In addition to the debt that prompted the government to cut trees, many farmers burn off forests to create rice paddies and fields for other crops to make a living.

Forests covered 68 percent of Laos in the 1960s, but only 47 percent in 1992 and 41.5 percent in 1997, according to the NGO, which cited a Laotian government study.

The group helps the government provide villages with forest ownership in line with the state Land Forest Allocation Program, by surveying the land and helping draw up village borders. It also lobbies Vientiane about problems that arise in villages and ensures the government and villages work together to manage forests.

Donations can be sent to the following bank account: Shinbashi branch of Mizuho Bank, futsu koza 1393499 (the name of the account is Japan Times Dokusha no Nanmin Enjo Kikin). Checks should be made out to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund, c/o The Japan Times head office (4-5-4, Shibaura, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8071). For inquiries, call (03) 3453-5312.