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Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010

News photo
Contingency planning: Women deposit rice in a rice bank in Savanakhet Province, Laos, on June 25. COURTESY OF JAPAN INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEER CENTER


JIVC lending hand in exploited Laos

Staff writer

The fourth in a series

Laos needs food supply support.

The Japan International Volunteer Center, a nongovernmental organization providing humanitarian aid in developing countries, has been helping Laos to restore forests, find food sources and learn agriculture since 1989.

The NGO, a regular recipient of support from The Japan Times Readers' Fund, received ¥170,979 in June to provide agriculture training, and the newspaper is soliciting donations to support similar activities by the group.

"Forests have been disappearing, and thus Laotians who have been gathering nuts and fruit to live will have to learn agriculture. We are basically teaching Laotians agriculture," JIVC official Masahiro Shimamura said.

As part of its activities to enhance reforestation and agricultural development, JIVC sent two employees — a Japanese and an Australian — to Savanakhet Province in June to set up a rice bank. The bank, with seed rice provided by the NGO, will lend it out at low interest rates because poor people typically run out of the staple around June and are forced to borrow it from a "rice loan shark," Shimamura said.

Such people typically have to wait until the rice harvest in November to pay back their loans, subsisting on nuts and fruit gathered from the forests. Since the forests are disappearing due to exploitation, however, the amount of food available between June and November is dwindling, too, Shimamura said.

"Now is the time for the bank to collect rice from borrowers. We are teaching them to pay back rice to ensure the sustainable operation of the bank," he said.

Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai companies have felled the forests to grow rubber and coffee trees and corn to supply their own countries, he said. Since the companies bring in their own employees as well, the local people do not benefit from jobs, he said.

JIVC is also showing Laotians how to make fertilizer and breed fish and other animals, he said, adding the group is planning to set up a "goat bank" similar in concept to the rice bank.

Deforestation in Laos has accelerated in recent years. 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, citing a Laotian government study.

To donate to The Japan Times Readers' Fund, please send donations to the following account: Mizuho Bank, Shinbashi branch, "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 information, call (03) 3453-5312.

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