Crops Other than Rice
Only about 150,000 hectares were planted with major crops other than rice in 1990, an increase from approximately 80,000 hectares in 1980. Principal nonrice crops include cardamom--sometimes considered a forestry product--coffee, corn, cotton, fruit, mung beans, peanuts, soybeans, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and vegetables. The only crop produced for export in substantial quantities is coffee. Although the total area planted to these crops is small relative to the area planted to rice, it increased from 10 percent of total cropped area in 1980 to about 18 percent in 1990. Although the increase in part reflects the drop in rice production during the drought years, it also demonstrates some success in the government's push to diversify crops. Yields for all the major crops except coffee, vegetables, and cardamom--for which some figures are only available from 1986--increased gradually between 1980 and 1990, most notably corn (by 70 percent), fruit (by 65 percent), peanuts (by 28 percent), and mung beans (by 25 percent). Despite increasing agricultural output, however, Laos is still an importer of food, heavily dependent on food aid.
Statistics for agricultural production do not reflect either the nature of the subsistence agricultural economy or the importance of opium to the hill economy. Opium, legal in Laos and once even accepted as a tax payment, is a lucrative cash crop for the Lao Sung--including the Hmong--who have resisted government efforts to replace opium production with the production of other goods, for which the market is much less profitable. Opium production provides the funds necessary to the household when there is a rice deficiency, common among swidden farmers. Crop substitution programs, however, have had some effect, and to some extent tougher laws against drug trafficking and government cooperation on training programs have also contributed to reduced output. In 1994 Laos remained the third largest producer of illicit opium for the world market, according to United States drug enforcement officials. These officials estimate the potential yield of opium declined 47 percent--from 380 tons in 1989 when a memorandum of understanding on narcotics cooperation between the United States and Laos was signed--to an estimated 180 tons in 1993. The 22 percent decline in opium production in 1993 from 1992, however, was largely attributed to adverse weather conditions.
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