Farmers are encroaching on national parks and protected forests in Laos, burning and clearing large areas to make room for cassava crops.
The demand for cassava has seen it become the most profitable agricultural product in Laos, as demonstrated by the country’s February trade figures: cassava was the leading export item, with figures totaling USD 85 million.
Laos exports most of its cassava to Thailand and Vietnam, where it is used in the production of Monosodium glutamate (MSG). China, meanwhile, imports cassava from Laos to be used in tapioca flour production, according to an official at the Lao Trade Portal.
Thailand has even designated the province of Nakhon Ratchasima, located in the country’s northeast, as its cassava processing hub. As a result, cassava from Laos has become more desirable than ever for export to Thailand.
This demand has led to encroachment on protected forests and national parks in Laos as farmers look for land to expand their cassava production, with reports of slash-and-burn agricultural practices becoming routine during the dry season.