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Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011

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Plant food: Farmers living in Savanakhet Province, Laos, mix ingredients to make fertilizer to spread on their fields in June. COURTESY OF JVC


JVC helps farmers in Laos raise rice yields

Staff writer

First in a series

Decades after gaining independence, Laos still needs outside support for its agriculture sector, the country's major industry.

The Southeast Asian country, which was mostly covered in dense tropical forests until the 1960s, has been suffering from food shortages and deforestation.

The nongovernmental organization Japan International Volunteer Center, or JVC, which is engaged in humanitarian aid in nine developing countries including Laos, Afghanistan and Sudan, has been providing aid to improve the lives of Laotians since 1989.

The NGO, a regular recipient of The Japan Times Readers' Fund, this year received ¥184,191 from the fund to train Laotians in agriculture, and the newspaper is currently soliciting donations from readers to support similar activities by the group.

"Laos is an agricultural country. We need to not only give financial support but also technical support to those engaged in agriculture," said Masahiro Shimamura, in charge of Laotian operations for the NGO.

The group spent the money this year on several projects, including teaching Laotians how to grow rice more efficiently.

JVC is supporting people in Savanakhet Province, where more than 90 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, by purchasing organic fertilizer, vaccines for farm animals such as cows, and instructing them on aquaculture, setting up rice and goat banks, and digging wells.

Rice banks typically lend farmers rice from around June to November when they often run out of the staple. JVC is also teaching farmers how to increase their harvests every year so they can pay back the borrowed rice with interest, Shimamura said.

"We want to stop the pattern of farmers borrowing from 'rice loan sharks' over and over," he said. Farmers used to typically borrow from a loan shark, who sometimes charges as much as 100 percent interest, he said.

Goat banks lend goats and borrowers pay back the animals and their offspring, he said.

JVC has in the past worked on restoring forests, which Laos lost during the chaos since gaining independence from France.

The nation had many forests whose ownership was never claimed. Chinese and Vietnamese logging companies entered those forests, felled the native trees and in their place planted eucalyptus, used in paper-making, and rubber trees, Shimamura said. Consequently, the harvest of mushrooms, nuts and other foods that grew in the forests plummeted.

Laotian farmers are also blamed for some of the deforestation, as many burned down the trees to create rice paddies and fields for other crops.

In the 1960s, forests covered 68 percent of the country, but that figure had fallen to 47 percent in 1992 and to 41.5 percent in 1997, said the NGO, citing a Laotian government study.

Donations can be made via bank transfer or check. For bank transfers, send to the following bank account: Shinbashi branch of Mizuho Bank, "futsu koza" 1393499 (account name is: The Japan Times dokusha no Nanmin Enjo Kikin). Checks should be made out to The Japan Times Readers' Charity Fund, c/o The Japan Times head office (4-5-4 Shibaura, Minato Ward, Tokyo, 108-8071). For more information, call (03) 3453-5312.

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