Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

Dangerous herbicide use found in Bokeo banana farms

Vientiane Times, 30 July 2014

The authorities are concerned about the herbicide used at Chinese operated banana farms in Bokeo province, fearing that overuse of chemical substances will impact people’s health and the environment. Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s Land Administration Department Mr Anothai Chanthalasy said Chinese companies directly rented land areas from villagers without approval from the authorities.

This made it difficult for authorities to inspect their farming activities and see how much chemical substances they have used on their farms, sparking fears that these projects will affect people’s health in the long term. Local people in the province called on the National Assembly telephone hotline asking the relevant sectors to inspect the project.

Mr Anothai responded to the callers at a press conference, saying that “Our authorities have not permitted the companies to operate these banana plantations.” The province has established a taskforce committee to inspect companies operating the plantation projects. The move is aimed to encourage those companies to undertake socio-environmental impact studies on their projects.

Mr Anothai warned that companies that fail to undertake the required studies would have their licence revoked. This means all companies that rented land plots from the villagers will have to undertake a socio-environmental impact study to make it easier for authorities to inspect their project activities. The study needs to include whether they use herbicides and the amount of the chemical substance used in the project.

In many foreign countries, they have equipment to test crops and vegetables for chemical substances which can lead authorities to order the farms to shutdown if harmful chemicals are found in their crops. In Laos, there is no equipment to test the produce in the field. Authorities only take samples to send to the lab once they suspect that inappropriate chemicals are being used on crops.

Director of Bokeo provincial Department of Agriculture and Forestry Mr Kham Phalakhone told Vientiane Times yesterday that most companies aimed to gain benefits from their investments, so the government needs to inspect them and determine whether they follow the standard requirement when it comes to environmental issues.

Over 3,000 hectares of banana plantations have been grown in the province since 2010. The Chinese companies have rented the land plots from villagers at costs ranging between 3,000 – 7,000 baht (750,000-1,750,000 kip) per Lai (1,600 square metres) per year, depending on the nature of the land and whether it needs to be cleared of scrub. The Chinese companies want to expand their projects driven by the high demand for bananas on the international market. However, the government issued a notice to stop the expansion of this kind of project.

Local people do not dare to eat mushrooms and other forestry products in areas where herbicides have been used. The companies have hired Lao people to spray the herbicide on their farms due to the lack of sufficient labour to clear the land manually. In addition, some villagers also use the herbicide to spray their own farms, which could possibly worsen the situation.

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