Lao River Clogged With Trash From Chinese Banana Farms

Packing materials and other waste from Chinese-owned banana farms are shown in the Beng river in Laos, Jan. 31, 2020.
Photo sent by citizen journalist

Waste run-off and trash from Chinese-owned banana farms are polluting a river in Laos, affecting over 500 families in the country’s Oudomxay province who rely on the river’s water for daily use, local sources say.

“The Chinese use a lot of chemicals in their banana farms,” a resident of Navang village in the province’s Houn district told RFA’s Lao Service on Jan. 31. “Sometimes their pipes leak, and the waste flows out into the Beng river.”

Trash and packing foam are also dumped into the river, “making it very dirty,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We have no choice but to use the river for bathing and other uses.”

“In this village, at least 500 families are affected,” he said.

The pollution has gone largely unaddressed for more than a year, a second villager said, adding that villagers first reported the problem to local authorities at the end of 2018.

“They came and inspected the farms, and at first things improved a little, but later things became the same again,” he said. “Now we’re afraid of diseases, as lots of fish, crabs, and snails in the Beng river have been killed by chemicals."

"The water is very dirty and is filled with foam used for wrapping bananas,” he said.

'Yes, the river is dirty'

Also speaking to RFA, a district official said that local authorities regularly inspect the Beng river and nearby farms.

“Yes, the river is dirty,” the official said, also speaking on condition he not be named. “And some places have more trash, especially foam and packing paper, than others.”

“The banana plantations use these materials to wrap up bananas, and after they are harvested, they throw them away. Then, the wind blows them into the river.”

Reached for comment, an interpreter for the locally operated and Chinese-owned Chin Kotang Company said his company does not pollute.

“We don’t have trash, and we don’t throw trash away,” he said, adding that another Chinese-owned company with farms in the district might be at fault.

“You can go and ask them,” he said.

New concessions granted

Concerns over chemical run-off from heavily polluting Chinese-owned banana plantations led in January 2017 to government orders forbidding new banana concessions, though many farms were left to operate under contracts valid for several more years.

But local officials have recently granted a number of firms land for new banana plantations in provinces that include Xayabury, Oudomxay, Borikhamxay, and Savannakhet, sources told RFA’s Lao Service in reports last year.

In late May 2019, Laos’ state-run Vientiane Times newspaper reported that bananas were expected to be Laos' top agricultural export last year, with the bulk of the crop being sent to China and Thailand.

Illnesses and deaths have long been reported among Lao workers exposed to chemicals on foreign-owned farms, with many suffering open sores, headaches, and dizzy spells, sources told RFA in earlier reports.

Chemical run-off from farms has also polluted many of the country’s water sources, killing fish and other animals and leaving water from local rivers and streams unfit to drink, sources say.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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