Lao Villagers Demand Investigation of Polluting Chinese, Vietnamese Farms


2020-11-04
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laos-bananafarm2-110420.jpg A Chinese banana plantation near a stream in Laos is shown in a file photo.
RFA

Villagers in southeastern Laos’ Sekong province are voicing alarm over the use by Chinese and Vietnamese farms of heavily polluting chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and are calling on government authorities to inspect the farms, cancel contracts, and take back the land.

Sources in Laos say the foreign-invested concessions are ignoring regulations banning the use of chemicals on large banana and sugarcane farms and orchards, and put in place after years of reported illnesses and deaths caused by the chemicals’ use.

Foreign firms investing in Sekong are not following the rules, one Dak Chung district villager told RFA’s Lao Service on Nov. 3.

“Villagers don’t want them to be using chemicals, and they want the government to solve this problem. They are afraid to take the products to sell at their stores,” she said, adding that the Lao government should inspect land concessions in the area and punish any investors found violating regulations set by the state.

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 remained in operation and the ban was lifted the following year to attract investment.

Investors from China and Vietnam have recently come to Sekong’s Tha Teng district in large numbers to start farms and are polluting local land and rivers, harming people’s livelihoods, a district villager said.

“Yes, they are using a lot of chemicals to grow rubber trees and other crops. The authorities need to look into this,” the villager said.

Many foreign firms have imported the chemicals they now use on their farms, bringing them into Laos without government approval, one agricultural expert said, adding that government authorities should move quickly to investigate their use.

“Going by the rules, we would like to see the use of chemicals reduced or stopped altogether,” he said.

'We will have to wait'

Also speaking to RFA, an official from Sekong’s Department of Planning and Investment said that authorities will begin soon to investigate local concessions, and will fine or cancel the contracts of investors found not to be following the rules.

“During the COVID-19 outbreak, some company owners went back to China, though, and have not come back to Laos, while others have returned,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“We will have to wait until all have come back before we take any action against them,” the official said.

Banana farming is a major source of employment in rural Laos, with hundreds of hectares of planted land employing Lao villagers and other workers in nurseries, planting, and harvesting, researchers say.

But illnesses and deaths have long been reported among Lao workers exposed to chemicals on foreign-owned banana farms. Chemical run-off from the farms has also polluted many of the country’s waterways, killing fish and fouling drinking water.

Many in Laos are also concerned about growing Chinese influence as a result of massive investment in hydropower dams and other infrastructure projects under Beijing's $1.3 trillion Belt and Road Initiative.

China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner, after Thailand.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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