Vientiane Times, April 4, 2016.
An agricultural research team has called for the government to formulate and enforce policies and measures to manage banana plantation investments in Laos after they were shown to have negative impacts on society and the environment. The team from the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) and the National University of Laos recently conducted a study on banana plantations, supported by various international organisations. Its recommendations include the formulation of appropriate market policies in order to avoid the risks of failing prices and policy implementation for the proper enforcement of environmental laws.
The relevant sectors should also set environmental management plans and undertake assessments before approving such investments in the future. They should also carry out policy implementation to instruct and enforce the use of environmentally friendly production inputs and manage chemical inputs. Advanced payments for restoring and rehabilitation of natural resources (soil, water quality and others) should be required as a deposit in case investors don’t comply with the conditions imposed on them. The team also recommended establishing provincial committees to screen and register chemicals including pesticides and herbicides used for agricultural production and improve, revise and enforce the list of banned chemicals in Laos. The government should also direct the relevant sectors to increase the capacity of district authorities in terms of implementation, monitoring and management of banana businesses and establish mechanisms to involve village and district authorities in the agribusiness or concession approval process. The relevant sectors should build capacity (based on the role and mandate of each department) for provincial investment committees who would be considered as the technical secretariat for the provincial governor in the investment approval process.
To stop banana plantations that create environmental and social impacts, and at the same time promote and recognise good practices, the government should suspend 100 percent concessions for banana plantations. The government should also allocate a budget for research and study to identify technical measurements, standards and production techniques to be used as a basic template for the approval process and test for long term impacts on people’s health and the environment. To achieve such positive improvements, it will require good cooperation from the different concerned sectors, a budget for implementation and assistance from international organisations in Laos. Commercial banana production started in the country in 2005, particularly in Luang Namtha province, with different business models coexisting such as 1+4, 2+3 and 100 percent concessions. There are deep concerns about the environmental and social impacts of banana plantations as a result of below standard management and monitoring systems, especially plantation companies. Banana plantation investment provides income generation but many problems have been identified regarding the environment and health. NAFRI Director General, Dr Bounthong Bouahom said the recently completed study will provide good data for the government and the relevant sectors in seeking to redress the issues and create a better future for the industry.