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Lao Consumers Will Not Face Serious Food Shortages: Senior Economist

Source: Vientiane Times

Lao consumers will not face serious food shortages as in other countries if the international supply chain is disrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a senior economist.

“There will be an impact on the urban areas but not the rural parts of Laos,” Dr Phouphet Kyophilavong said on Tuesday when asked about the impact to the Lao economy if the international community imposes further travel and transport restrictions to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

The economics lecturer at the National University of Laos (NUOL) commented on growing concerns that the disruption of international trade would cause domestic shortages of consumer goods, particularly food as most products are imported from neighbouring countries.

Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith on Monday urged the Lao people to prepare for an unpredictable scenario as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow in neighbouring countries. However, he said the Lao people had well-established traditions in agriculture, and this would absorb the impact of international trade disruption if it eventuated.

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The premier said the government would continue to devise measures toaddress the impact of Covid-19 moving forward, adding that the public should consume information from reliable and official sources so they can take part in implementing government policy.

Dr Phouphet, who is also Vice Dean of the Economics and Business Management Faculty, NUOL, said rural communities, which formed the majority of Laos, had a long tradition of self-sufficient farming practices. Therefore, the impact of trade disruption in Laos would not be as severe as in many other countries.

Panic buying, particularly in Europe and Australia, has seen the stockpiling of essentials as fears grow among consumers about the quick global spread of Covid-19 and the potential disruption to supply chains.

Dr Phouphet also did not foresee the necessity for the international community to close borders with each other. Therefore, the public should not be overly concerned about food shortages, adding that he only saw the current imposition of travel restrictions, not freight movement restrictions.

Many Lao people, in particular those living in the countryside, have expressed no fears of food shortages if the international supply chain is disrupted, adding that they already have reserves of grain and livestock.

“We do not need to panic buy like in other countries as we have good supplies of rice and livestock,” said a smallholder farmer in Sangthong district, some 30 km outside of Vientiane capital.

Observers noted the disruption to supply chains would create opportunities for Laos to increase agricultural production. At the same time, many farmers demanded the government shut down illegal produce imports to eliminate unfair competition.

Data from Vientiane authorities indicates that over ten tonnes of illegally imported vegetables and other agricultural products are sold in the capital daily.