Survivors of Lao Dam Collapse Want to Grow Rice, Not Bananas on Compensatory Land

laos-new-houses-sanamxay-attapeu-province-aug19-2018.jpg Lao workers build contemporary houses in Sanamxay district, southeastern Laos' Attapeu province, for villagers who lost their homes during a flood caused by the collapse of a saddle dam, Aug. 19, 2018.

Survivors of Laos’ worst flooding in decades are at odds with the government after land they were promised in compensation was granted to a Chinese-backed firm to grow bananas.

Many survivors lost their homes and land, and even family members in a disaster that occurred last July when a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy (PNPC) hydropower project collapsed following heavy rains, inundating 12 villages and killing at least 40 people in Laos’ southern Champassak and Attapeu provinces, and leaving many more missing.

One group of survivors were relocated to Pindong village in Attapeu’s Sanamxay district, and the government cleared land for them, promising it was theirs to farm. But shortly later, officials gave the land to the banana company as a concession.

RFA reported last week that the local government in Sanamxay district was encouraging the group of survivors to accept employment from the Chinese company to help grow bananas as a means of support, but the survivors are saying that they disagree with the plan.

A villager told RFA’s Lao Service that the survivors want to grow rice and raise livestock, just as they had done before the disaster.

One of the problems, according to the villager, is the so-called 2+3 system, which would divide labor between the company and villagers. For every two workers that the village provides, the company will provide an equivalent in funding, technology and marketing. The profits would then be divided.

He said that the villagers are afraid that the banana plantation will pollute the rivers with chemicals used in the farming process, and this in turn would in the long term destroy their livelihood in the same way that that banana farming has impacted other provinces across Laos.

The Lao government has vowed to enforce a ban on the granting of land for new banana plantations and punish local officials who violate it, amid a controversy over the illegal overuse of pesticides that residents say are causing pollution and destroying their livelihoods.

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 still operate under contracts valid for several more years.

But local officials have granted a number of firms land for new banana plantations in recent months, despite the government ban, in provinces that include Xayabury, Oudomxay, Borikhamxay, and Savannakhet, while other companies are negotiating for new farms elsewhere in the country, such as Vientiane province, sources told RFA.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture and Forestry in Attapeu told RFA’s Lao service that the Sanamxay district survivors will grow bananas as a pilot project with the Lao-Chinese Company in only 460 ha out of the 2,000 ha plot that the government allocated to the survivors.

According to the department, there are six resettlement villages in the district, and residents still need help in the form of income to feed their families.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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