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Women attend a village meeting in Phak Thone, Laos, where crops were damaged by flooding. Kaylie Tiessen

Women attend a village meeting in Phak Thone, Laos, where crops were damaged by flooding. Kaylie Tiessen

MCC responds to flooding in Laos

Tim Shenk
September 10, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is planning to distribute about 20 metric tons of seeds to nearly 3,700 people in rural Laos whose crops were destroyed by widespread flooding.

The Mekong river, which runs along western Laos, flooded to its highest level in living memory in mid-August and caused extensive damage to farmland. MCC is preparing to provide rice and vegetable seeds in Sangthong district, a rural area where MCC carries out public health and agriculture projects in partnership with the local government.

The flooding destroyed rice, corn and other crops in Sangthong district, according to Kaylie Tiessen, one of three MCC staff members who visited the district from Aug. 25 to 27 to plan MCC's response.

"Everything that was in lower-lying land was brown," said Tiessen, who is from Leamington, Ontario. "I come from a farming family and so I just kept on thinking what would I feel like if I woke up one morning and all the crops in the front yard were brown. It would be devastating."

According to a government census, residents of Sangthong district earn an average of $1.35 per day and are among the poorest people in Vientiane Municipality, an area surrounding the capital of Laos.

Farmers in Sangthong district said the flooding would make it difficult to feed their families in the coming year and to repay agricultural loans. The farmers gave recommendations for the types of seeds for MCC to distribute, including mung beans that can be planted later in the agricultural season, according to Tiessen.

MCC is preparing to distribute 12 metric tons of rice seeds, 7.5 metric tons of mung bean seeds and about 800 kilograms of other vegetable seeds in 27 villages of Sangthong district.

The seed distribution will allow families with irrigated fields to grow rice for themselves, and families without irrigation will be able to sell mung beans in order to buy rice, according to Hien Phimmachanh, MCC Laos program administrator.

An audio interview with Tiessen is available at mcc.org/podcasts.