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Forestry in Laos

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In the 1950s, forests covered 70 percent of the land area in Laos; yet, by 1992, according to government estimates, forest coverage had decreased by nearly one-third, to just 47 percent of total land area. Despite the dwindling expanse, timber--including ironwood, mahogany, pine, redwood, and teak--and other forestry products-- benzoin (resin), charcoal, and sticklac--constitute a valuable supply of potential export goods. The forest has also been an important source of wild foods, herbal medicines, and timber for house construction and even into the 1990s continues to be a valued reserve of natural products for noncommercial household consumption. Since the mid-1980s, however, widespread commercial harvesting of timber for the export market has disrupted the traditional gathering of forest products in a number of locations and contributed to extremely rapid deforestation throughout the country.

Agriculture in Laos

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At least 5 million hectares of Laos's total land area of 23,680,000 hectares are suitable for cultivation. However, just 17 percent of the land area (between 850,000 and 900,000 hectares) is actually cultivated, less than 4 percent of the total area. Rice accounted for about 80 percent of cultivated land during the 1989- 90 growing season, including 422,000 hectares of lowland wet rice and 223,000 hectares of upland rice. This demonstrates that although there is interplanting of upland crops and fish are found in fields, irrigated rice agriculture remains basically a monoculture system despite government efforts to encourage crop diversification. Cultivated land area had increased by about 6 percent from 1975-77 but in 1987 only provided citizens with less than one-fourth of a hectare each, given a population of approximately 3.72 million in 1986. In addition to land under cultivation, about 800,000 hectares are used for pastureland or contain ponds for raising fish. Pastureland is rotated, and its use is not fixed over a long period of time.

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