Rice farmers in Oudomxay province are struggling to cope with a rodent outbreak that has rapidly spread after first occurring last month.
Dozens of hectares of upland rice in La, Pakbang and Namor districts have been damaged by rodents, according to a report from the provincial agriculture section.
Farmers in other districts are also affected by the outbreak but section officials are yet to receive reports from local authorities outlining the exact extent of the damage.
Farmers are now buying arsenic to kill the rats in an attempt to control the outbreak, the section deputy head, Mr Souvick Chanthaphot, told Vientiane Times yesterday.
Rodent outbreaks have occurred in the province for the past three years and provincial authorities are yet to find a reliable measure to prevent the plagues, he said.
Two years ago domestic technicians and foreign experts visited affected areas in the province but were unable to find a way to prevent the outbreaks.
Last year, rodents destroyed more than 1,300 hectares of upland rice in four districts - Nga, Baeng, Pakbaeng and Houn – affecting the livelihoods of about 1,660 farming families in the province, said Mr Soukvick.
In 2008, more than 5,000 hectares of rice crops were damaged by a plague of rodents, he said.
As an initial assistance measure, provincial farmers are requesting the government provide them with rice seeds to allow them to replant their crops because they do not have any seedlings remaining.
Follow-up assistance should include rice stocks for consumption and cooperation between relevant sectors to discuss and implement prevention and control measures, Mr Souvick said.
The provincial Agriculture and Forestry Department borrowed 200 million kip to buy rice seeds to help farmers who had their crops destroyed by rodents last year.
Oudomxay province does not produce sufficient rice to feed its population, and the latest outbreak has put a further strain on food security for local people.
So far this wet season about 2,700 hectares of rice in province have been damaged by drought and pests, Mr Souvick said.
In past years, rat infestations have damaged crops in many villages in the northern provinces of Xayaboury, Phongsaly, Huaphan, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang, Luang Namtha and Bokeo, and led to a lack of rice for more than 100,000 farming families.
In the aftermath of past rodent outbreaks, the government and international organisations have provided assistance in the form of rice and seedlings through the World Food Programme.
Published in Vientiane Times, 2 September 2010