Laos is an Asian nation located in the continent's southeastern region. The Laotian economy is categorized as one of the fastest growing economies globally which can be attributed to several factors such as the utilization of the country's natural resources and the government's ambitious economic reforms. In 2017, according to statistics from the World Bank, the Laotian GDP was the 113th highest at $16.85 billion. The Laotian GDP per capita was the 130th in the world at 2,457 in 2017. Some of the essential natural resources in Laos include arable land, the country's beautiful scenery, and forests.
Natural Resources of Laos
Statistics from the Laotian government and the World Bank indicated that in 2015, forests covered roughly 81.3% of the country's territory. The data also indicated that from 2005 to 2015 the size of land covered by forests had increased. There are several types of forests in Laos such as monsoon forests, dry evergreen forests, and mixed deciduous forests. The most common variety of forest in Laos is the mixed deciduous forest which covered an area of roughly 363 square miles. Some of the most common trees in Laos include the ironwood, redwood, and pine which are mainly used to produce timber. Forests in Laos are used for a variety of purposes such as providing firewood and timber for building. In 1992, timber was one of Laos' most important exports and it accounted for roughly a third of all the exports from the country. The forests of Laos are also significant because they safeguard the country's watersheds and maintain the quality of water.
The Laotian forests are also home to several unique varieties of wildlife. Despite their great economic importance, Laotian forests face several major challenges such as deforestation and the declining quality of the trees. Deforestation was particularly common in the 1990s as farmers used the slash and burn farming method. The Laotian government put in place several laws to prohibit slash and burn agriculture to safeguard the country's hardwoods. The Laotian government has also partnered with international organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund to safeguard the country's forests. One of the villages of Laos that have greatly benefited from the assistance of the World Wildlife Fund is Sobphouan. The organization convinced the farmers in the village to replace traditional farming methods with rattan production to reduce deforestation.
In 2014, it was estimated that arable land accounted for roughly 6.61% of the total land area in Laos. From 2004 to 2014, the size of arable land in Laos had increased significantly. The increase in the size of arable land in Laos can be attributed to the importance of agriculture to the Laotian economy. In 2017, it was estimated that agriculture contributed roughly 21% of Laos' GDP. The Laotian labor department estimated that in 2012, 73% of the country's labor force was involved in agriculture. Laotian farmers grow a wide variety of crops such as mangos, rice, and coffee. The Laotian agricultural sector faces several challenges such as soil erosion and overreliance on traditional agricultural methods. The government of Laos has encouraged farmers to adopt modern agricultural techniques such as the use of commercial fertilizers and tractors to increase their yield. The Laotian government estimated that from 1980 to 1989, the number of tractors in the country almost doubled. The government has also encouraged farmers to adopt irrigation in areas with limited supplies of water. Small-scale irrigation projects are more common in Laos than large-scale irrigation projects.
One of the most important crops grown in Laos is rice which is primarily grown for subsistence. The Laotian government estimated that rice was grown on almost 80% of the country's agricultural land. For most of the 1980s and the 1990s, rice accounted for more than 70% of Laos' agricultural production. During the late 1980s, the number of people working in the rice industry declined by nearly 30% as a result of government policies that favored the growth of cash crops over rice. Experts feared that the government policy would lead to a drastic reduction in the amount of rice produced in the country affecting its food security.
The most important cash crop in Laos is coffee which was introduced to the country by the French during the early 20th century. The soils in Laos are conducive for coffee growing as they have sufficient nutrients. One of the most conducive areas for coffee growing in Laos is the Bolaven Plateau situated in Paksong. The government of Laos estimated that the country was home to roughly 20,000 communities dedicated to coffee growing spread out in approximately 250 villages. Laotian farmers grow both Arabica and Robusta coffee with Robusta being the most common variety. Arabia coffee from Laos is popular because of its unique taste. Laos is one of the top coffee producing nations of the world and the government of Laos is working with farmers to increase the quantity of Arabica Coffee grown in the country.
Some of Laos' most important natural resources are its minerals which include coal, copper, and gold. The mining industry is one of Laos' most important industries as it contributed approximately 7% of the country's GDP in 2012. During the 21st century, the Laotian mining industry has attracted investment from foreign companies leading to the sector's growth. Some of Laos' most important mines include the Sepon mine and the Hongsa mine. The Sepon mine is one of the most important gold mines globally as its gold reserves are estimated to weigh more than 7.6 million ounces.
Laos' beautiful scenery is one of its most important natural resources as it attracts vast numbers of tourists to the country. Some of the most beautiful destinations in Laos include the Kuang Si Falls and the Pak Ou Caves. In 2017, it was estimated that close to 3.9 million tourists had visited Laos. Data from the Laotian government indicated that the tourism sector grew faster than any other sector of the country's economy. The government has invested heavily in improving the country's tourism industry mainly through advertising in foreign nations.
Challenges Facing The Laotian Economy
The Laotian economy faces several challenges such as the movement of skilled workers to other nations in search of better opportunities and the country's high rate of corruption. The government of Laos has invited foreign corporations to invest in various sectors of the country's economy and create employment for the Laotian people. The Laotian government has also taken action to reduce the levels of corruption in the country.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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