07/09/2009, 00.00
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Laotian authorities in the rubber industry. Forests destroyed, farmers evicted from land

Foreign companies get permission to occupy and clear acres of land to grow rubber trees. But often take away the wood without creating rubber plantations. Thus they take from poor farmers what little they have to survive.
Vientiane (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Laotian authorities allow businesses to cut whole hectares of forest to create rubber trees plantations. But the poor peasants of the Mekong region are often left without compensation for the forests and lands that they cultivated and that were their only source of livelihood.

The farmers denounce that companies have only taken away hectares of wood without giving anything in return. Louna, village chief in Viengsai, in  the southern province of Attapeu, told the Inter Press Service that in 2008 tractors and mechanical shovels arrived, felling entire forests and evicting poor farmers from the land they cultivated. The village protested to the authorities, but received no reply. Now many farmers are even deprived of the land to grow rice to eat.

In the zone around 60 hectares of rubber tree plantations were created, but they were not well cultivated, and for the most part have perished.

The province of Attapeu is the southernmost of the country, bordering Vietnam and Cambodia. In its 10 thousand square kilometres of territory, there are over 7 thousand hectares of forest. Now, many foreign companies have applied to demolish large areas of forest for rubber cultivation. The authorities claims it  will bring new jobs and wealth. But local sources report that many companies just want to take away the wood, with permits issued by complacent authorities who fail to seek guarantees or indemnities for the population.

The problem is not new: as early as May 2007 the inhabitants of the Bachieng district, Champasak province reported that companies had occupied and cleared over 100 hectares of land used by farmers. At the time premier Bouasone Bouphayanh, solicited by public protest, promised that new permits would not have been granted without adequate investment programs.

Following this Bounthong Bouahom, head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, said that the government has never clearly stated the criteria for allowing such activities.

Authorisation from the central Lao Land Management and National Authority is only needed for concessions of more than 150 hectares, while those below the fall under the charge of provincial authorities, which often are willing to help and even give financial and fiscal tax breaks to companies.


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