The Fertile Soil

Sino-Lao agricultural cooperation is eliminating poverty

Agriculture has long been the pillar industry of Laos’ national economy. In recent years, the Belt and Road Initiative has helped agricultural cooperation between China and Laos become closer, which has improved the standard of living and contributed greatly to agricultural development in Laos.

A Lao farmer stands next to his rice field in Luang Prabang, Laos, on April 16, 2008. (VCG)

Building Technology Platforms

In 2013, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Committee and People’s Government of Guangxi allocated special funds for an aid program called “China (Guangxi)-ASEAN Fine Crop Varieties Experimental Station” to benefit ASEAN countries. Phase one of the program planned to build one fine crop varieties experimental station in each of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Guangxi Agricultural Vocational College (GAVC) undertook construction of the station in Laos, which has already become an important platform for exchange of agricultural technology between China and Laos.

The Laos station utilized water and fertilizer integration technology to successfully plant cantaloupe in Laos. In April 2014, Laos’ first cantaloupe festival was held in Vientiane. Officials from relevant agricultural departments of Laos and nearby villagers alike excitedly poured into the greenhouses to pick and taste cantaloupe. Many had never witnessed the melon grown in Laos, so they dubbed it “China’s sweet melon.” 

In 2015, the experimental station in Laos successfully introduced the red pitaya which can be planted easily, attracts few pests, produces solid yields, and sells well. Local farmers came to the station to buy seedlings, and three Chinese companies were attracted to Laos to invest in pitaya cultivation.

Lu Feng, a technician working at the experimental station in Laos, said that local people like the sweetness of the red pitaya. When the pitayas ripen, traders and vendors flock to the experimental station to buy for reselling elsewhere.

“People line up around the block to buy the fruit because a vendor can sell 100 kilograms a day,” Lu added.

Since it was established in 2013, the experimental station in Laos has continued to introduce new varieties to increase crop yield. So far, about 261 crop varieties have been introduced and trial planted, of which 67 were deemed suitable for the weather and soil conditions in Laos and have been planted across an area of more than 2,680 hectares for demonstration and promotion.

The experimental station in Laos has carried out 32 training sessions for 1,558 agricultural technicians, and recommended nearly 100 Lao agricultural technicians and students for admission to Guangxi University and GAVC for further studies.

Poverty Alleviation Effort

Ban Tha Dok Kham Village, located on the edge of the Nam Ngum River, a tributary of the Mekong River, was once an obscure, impoverished place. During the rainy season, the water often flooded the fields and the villagers were left to harvest only a few rations to survive. Today, however, the village is known as a vegetable hotbed in Vientiane, and the villagers are optimistic for the future.

    In 2016, the International Poverty Reduction Center in China (IPRCC) launched a community demonstration project on China-Laos poverty reduction cooperation. The experimental station in Laos agreed to provide technical and agricultural products sales support for the project. Due to the long rainy season and many insect pests in Laos, harvests after traditional vegetable planting were never good, so vegetables were always expensive. The experimental station decided to use greenhouse technology to solve these problems.

In 2016, the experimental station in Laos built five greenhouses in Ban Tha Dok Kham which could be used for free by the villagers, but no one planted anything. Then, a senior village official took the lead and mobilized village cadres to claim a greenhouse each and grow vegetables in accordance with the methods taught by technicians at the experimental station. After the vegetables were harvested, everyone was surprised to find that for the same planting area, the monthly income from greenhouse cultivation was about US$153 compared to an average of US$69 otherwise. Villager enthusiasm was sparked, and they began actively applying for greenhouse space. The eight new greenhouses built by the experimental station immediately filled up.

Vierkan, a villager from Ban Tha Dok Kham, used to grow rice at home while her husband went out to work. Back then, the annual income of the whole family was about US$765. Vierkan claimed a greenhouse afterwards and learned how to plant greenhouse vegetables from technicians. Now, her quarterly income from selling vegetables exceeds US$1,530 after her husband came home to plant vegetables with her. They have built a new house.

After the promising results, the IPRCC and the experimental station in Laos launched the second phase of the project: 10 new vegetable greenhouses with water supply equipment along with technical training for the villagers. The two phases of the project directly supported 46 households in planting greenhouse vegetables and motivated 80 percent of the village farming households to participate in vegetable planting. Now, vegetable planting in Ban Tha Dok Kham is gaining market shares and paving the way for the villagers to escape poverty and become rich.

Eradicating Drugs at the Source

Northern Laos used to be a traditional opium poppy growing area. Economic and social development was backward, infrastructure was weak, and the living conditions of the villagers were difficult. Promoting alternatives to opium poppy cultivation can not only eliminate the problems of drugs at the source, but also help the long-term development of northern Laos. Based on this consensus, China and Laos have strengthened cooperation to encourage Chinese companies to invest in agriculture in Laos and develop alternatives to opium poppy cultivation.

Yunnan State Farms Group Co., Ltd. actively responded to the call and started planting natural rubber, rice, corn, and other crops in the area. Since entering Laos in February 2006, it has invested a total of 1.012 billion yuan (US$150 million) to build 21 rubber demonstration planting bases with a total area of over 6,700 hectares.

Many villagers who previously relied on opium poppy cultivation have shifted to rubber planting. The rubber planting bases established by Yunnan State Farms Group have provided more than 6,000 employment opportunities for locals and created 100,000 temporary jobs for short periods of time. Long-term, stable, and legitimate income has greatly improved the living conditions of the villagers. In addition to growing substitute crops, Yunnan State Farms Group has also implemented livelihood projects such as building roads, bridges, housing, schools, and drug treatment facilities, which have received support from the local government and residents.

In January 2021, Sonexay Siphandone, member of the Political Bureau of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee and deputy prime minister of Laos, visited the Lao Research Institute of Rubber Industry, which was funded and established by Yunnan State Farms Group.

Sonexay Siphandone commented on Yunnan State Farms Group making positive contributions to local economic development, infrastructure construction, industrial poverty alleviation, people’s livelihood improvement, and social welfare undertakings in Laos. He advocated Yunnan State Farms Group continuing to implement the action plan reached by Laos and China on building a community with a shared future and contribute Chinese strength and wisdom to the development of modern agriculture in Laos.

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