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Xayaboury bans further investment in banana farms

Vientiane Times, October 22, 2015.

Xayaboury province will impose restrictions on banana farms following reports which suggested that farms in several provinces had used harmful chemicals which leaked into the soil and threatened local livelihoods. Governor of the northwestern province, Mr Phongsavanh Sitthavong, recently informed the media that Xayaboury would allow only companies that had already been granted a concession to plant bananas on approved areas. New investments or the expansion of existing plantations will not be allowed.

In recent months, the provincial authorities have given the green light to three companies – two based in China and one in Laos – to establish banana farms on hundreds of hectares.
The approval came after Luang Namtha, Oudomxay and Bokeo provinces banned the expansion of existing banana farms and new investments following reports of chemical threats to nearby communities.
The governor said the land allocated to the three companies was far away from rice fields and any chemicals used on the banana crop would not leach into farmland owned by local people.
“They [the investors] are also not allowed to plant bananas along rivers,” he said.
The governor spoke to local media while attending a three-day biannual meeting in Vientiane between the government cabinet, Vientiane Mayor and provincial governors. So far, farm owners have planted bananas on more than 300 hectares, which fall within the approved area.
In light of the reported chemical threats, the governor said officials were told to pay close attention to the operation of these new plantations to ensure they are managed in line with acceptable safety standards.
Chinese firms have invested in banana farms in several provinces, mainly Luang Namtha, Oudomxay, Bokeo and Xayaboury. Bananas have been planted on 11,000 hectares in Bokeo. Meanwhile, Oudomxay has planted around 4,000 hectares and almost 1,000 hectares have been planted out in Luang Namtha. The crop has also been planted on large swathes of land along rivers and also in irrigated areas, which officials say should be reserved for rice and cash crop production to ensure food security. Villagers have made several calls to the special hotline operated by the National Assembly, saying banana farms have used and leaked chemicals which have damaged their crops and livestock.
Provincial authorities have now suspended investment in banana farms and the expansion of existing farms in the wake of inspections that proved the claims to be true.
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