02/01/2017, 13.45
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Chinese banana plantations banned for endangering the environment and farm workers

Initially, the ban covered only Tonpheung and Huayxai provinces, but the authorities eventually extended it. Banana plantations have disrupted local farming practices and polluted ground water. Last year, one worker died from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Vientiane (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The authorities in the northern Lao province of Bokeo have suspended the operations of 18 Chinese-backed banana plantations after they discovered widespread violations of the regulations governing the use of agricultural chemicals, government officials told Radio Free Asia's Lao Service.

The use of chemicals is not the only problem. “Chinese investors also plant outside of the areas where they have approval from the government,” the official explained. “Therefore, the planting is [now] banned.”

Instead of growing the native ‘kuay nam’ banana, Chinese plantations generally produce the world's top banana, the Cavendish.

However, growing it in Laos’s northern provinces requires the use of a cornucopia of pesticides, herbicides, pesticides, rodenticides, and fertilisers to boost production and ward off the 28 diseases and 19 insects that attack banana plants.

The use of the chemicals has increased production, but has also polluted ground water, whilst the thousands of plastic packages that the chemicals were packed in have been strewn across the countryside.

A government official in the Pha Oudom district, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that one worker had died from exposure to the chemicals.

The banana plantation owner gave the victim 500,000 kip (US$ 62.50) when he was treated in the hospital, but his family wasn’t compensated when he died.

Conditions for banana workers are so bad that plantation owners allow them to work on a plantation for only three years because they fear they will die there.

“Chinese investors only think of their benefits. They invest lots of money, and they take advantage of the villagers,” the official said. "The plantations in Tonpheung and Bokeo have now been banned, and they are slowly leaving.”

Earlier this year, the ban on growing bananas covered only the most affected provinces (Tonpheung and Huayxai) but was eventually extended to all areas.

Over the next two years, Bokeo provincial officials hope to switch agricultural production from bananas to other crops such as watermelons and palms.

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