Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) is located in Southeast Asia, a region that has grown rapidly during the last three decades. However, Lao PDR is ranked as one of the least developed countries in the region and in the world. According to the UNDP Global Human Development Index (HDI), Lao PDR was ranked as 133rd out of 179 countries. In 2010, 26% of people were living below the poverty line.
The country has a total land area of approximately 236,800 km2, of which 80% is mountainous. In 2009, it had a population of about 6.3 million and the total gross domestic product (GDP) was USD 5 billion, with a GDP per capita of USD 940. The population growth remains steady at around 2% annually and the population density is very low, at about 27 people per km2.
Agriculture and forestry account for 47% of GDP and for more than 80% of total employment. Over the past decade, agricultural output rose steadily, with an average annual growth rate of 4.3%. In the country, about 620,000 households depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and more than 80% of the farms practice subsistence farming. Farms have an average size of less than two hectares.
The majority of agricultural activity is concentrated on rice production along the Mekong River and its tributaries. Rice is the foundation of the farming system, accounting for 85% of total crop production and 39% of agricultural GDP. The area planted to rice represents more than 80% of the nation’s cropped land.
Climate hazards such as flooding and droughts can be very destructive, not only altering the landscape, fauna, flora and vegetation, but also destroying public infrastructure, property, productive land, agricultural assets and upcoming harvests. It is expected that climate change will increase the frequency and magnitude of these events, making even more people food insecure, especially in the rural areas.
In recent years, the country has faced widespread food insecurity, with over a third of the population experiencing rice shortfalls of 2-6 months per year. Based on a 2007 countrywide National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations, it is estimated that up to 46% of the rural population in Lao PDR - approximately 188,000 households, most of whom are living in lowlands - are at risk of becoming food insecure. This might stem from a loss of access to natural resources, floods and droughts, or a sudden increase in food prices. Problematically, this is in addition to the 2% of people who are already chronically food insecure.
Rising temperatures will also increase the incidence and range of pests and, when combined with decreased rainfall and increased demand for irrigated water, higher temperatures will also present new challenges related to water storage or transfer mechanisms.