A Lao-Chinese project that will encourage people in Laos’ northernmost Phongsaly province to grow agricultural crops instead of opium poppies has been launched, at an estimated cost of 161 million yuan ($25 million).

The Chinese government is purportedly funding the initiative to help improve the lives of the province’s residence as well as bolster economic development.

The aim is to reduce poverty levels by weaning people off the cultivation of opium poppies and encouraging them to grow other crops that have more overall benefit.

An agreement on the project was signed last week in Seo Chai village, Yot Ou district, between Lao authorities and a Chinese company. The project will run for 30 years from the date of signing, with the Chinese company to work with local residents to grow crops.

The company will provide funding, technical advice and a market for the crops grown, which will be farmed by local residents.

The Lao government has allocated 140ha for crop production in Seo Chai and other villages where opium poppies have been traditionally cultivated. The crops harvested will be sold in Laos and to other countries.

Under the project, a secondary school will be built in Seo Chai village, as well as a village office, a police office, health centre, a Lao-Chinese Cultural Friendship centre, and an agricultural training centre.

A market will also be built along with a warehouse to store agricultural produce, a park, housing and dormitories for workers, a crop processing plant, and a place to demonstrate economic development.

The Chinese company will undertake construction of the secondary school in Seo Chai village at a cost of 1.3 million yuan.