MAF (2013) estimated that there were 654,300 ha of grazing lands in Lao PDR and 1.14 million ha of forest areas. Of 654,300 ha of grazing lands, about 7,300 ha of grazing land is in lowlands while almost 490,000 ha of grazing land is in uplands (almost 75% of the total grazing lands); 9,900 ha of grazing land in highlands, and 147,300 ha of scattered grazing land in lowlands (each plot was no more than 300 ha). Definition of grazing lands remains ambiguous. Most cattle grazed in various unproductive land types including degraded forests, fallows and seasonal rainfed rice fields. Defining and zoning strategic grazing lands are necessary as the fundamental unit for cattle development.
The grazing land areas in the uplands in Laos may be suitable to extensive cattle production systems due relatively large areas of grazing resources. Adopting intensive cattle production systems such as overstocking in the uplands may be vulnerable to soil degradation and erosion unless forages were growth, but this would increase household labour and input costs. In contrast, grazing land areas in the lowlands may be suitable for semi-intensive and intensive cattle production. In these lowland areas, many smallholder farmers were also able to access to input services and by-product crops that were used for supplementary feed.
Although industrial animal feeds are important inputs of intensive and semi-intensive livestock husbandry, domestic animal feed processing industry in Laos remains uncompetitive in spite of opportunities for the development of maize and soybean. The limitation to attracting private investment has led to only small and medium enterprises engaging in the industry. Due to inability of the domestic enterprises to compete with foreign feed enterprises particularly in China and Thailand in terms of production costs, maize is therefore exported completely to neighboring countries for animal feed processing.
A number of crops are grown in relatively large scale in Laos. These produce by-products that can be used as cattle feed (MAF 2013). There were about 3.2 million tons of lowland rice (including rainfed and irrigated rice production) produced in 2013, which implies that a significant quantity of by-products (at least 3.1 million tons of rice straw) would be available. These by-product crops of rice can be fed to cattle up to almost 1.7 million head. Other strategic crops included cassava, maize, sweet corn and sugarcane. Overall, the production of crop by-products from these strategic crops can be up to 11 million tons which can be fed to up to about 5 million head of cattle. Policy intervention should focus on creating a cattle feed industry which uses the large quantity of by-product crops as cattle feed ingredients.