Border closures threaten Laos’ banana industry, major source of jobs – Radio Free Asia


Producers in Laos were forced to donate or destroy hundreds of tons of bananas for export to China when a new wave of coronavirus closed the border, the growers told RFA.

A truck driver from China tested positive last week after returning home through the Mohan-Boten gate in Luang Namtha province, northwest Laos, prompting authorities to temporarily close the most point often used to transport bananas from Laos to China.

Exporters have also attempted to ship the bananas to China via Vietnam, but a wave of COVID has also closed borders there.

“China will not allow us to enter,” a banana producer from the northern province of Oudomxay told RFA’s Lao service.

“We threw over 100 tonnes of Oudomxay bananas. Normally, it takes two to three days for the bananas to arrive from Oudomxay in China. If we send them through the border post in Vietnam, then on a boat to China, it takes about three to four days, but we also cannot enter Vietnam, ”said the source, who requested anonymity. to express themselves freely.

Vietnam has closed its border with Laos, an official from Savannakhet province told RFA.

“If it were up to us, we would allow them transportation inside and out, as long as they follow the rules,” the official said. “But we don’t understand why Vietnam doesn’t allow them to enter.”

Farmers were quick to donate their bananas before they rot, but much of their produce ended up being destroyed on the spot.

“There are so many – maybe two or three trucks of bananas – that we can’t send,” a farmer from Savanakhet told RFA.

“About 200 to 300 boxes that we couldn’t ship must have been destroyed last week,” the farmer said.

The border closure has left many small farmers on the brink of financial ruin, a recipient of free bananas told RFA.

Large banana farms also suffered huge losses, but these farms were able to recoup some of the loss by charging for shipment to recipients of the free bananas.

“It depends on the farm owner how much he can give to an individual. If we ask for five bunches, they will give them to us, but we have to pay for the transport, ”said the banana receiver.

“Others don’t give them away for free. They sell it at a low price, below the market price, ”the source said.

Most of the banana farms in Laos are owned by Chinese companies and are located near the Chinese border in northern Laos. But Chinese investors are settling year after year in the center and the south of the country.

“The areas of banana plantations in Laos are not fixed and fluctuate from year to year. Some years we have more and others less, ”an official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry told RFA.

“Before, there were a lot of them in northern Laos, but now there are plantations as far as Borikhamxay [in the central region] and Saravane [in the deep south]”, said the official.

The Vientiane Times reported this week that many banana companies would likely be forced to close if the Mohan-Boten border post remained closed for three months.

Banana cultivation is a major source of employment in rural Laos. But illnesses and deaths have long been reported among Laotian workers exposed to chemicals on banana farms owned by foreigners. Runoff of chemicals from farms has also polluted many rivers across the country, killing fish and clogging drinking water.

Many Laos are also concerned about China’s growing influence following massive investments in hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road Initiative of 1, Beijing $ 3 trillion.

China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second largest trading partner, after Thailand.

Reported by the Laotian service of RFA. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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