Chinese banana plantations first started cropping up about six years ago in the northern Laotian province of Bokeo, which borders Thailand and Myanmar. Nowadays they cover more than 11,000 hectares, as well as providing some US$100 million in annual exports, and making up 95% of Bokeo’s exports.
Most Lao banana plantation workers accept their dangerous working conditions because they earn more doing it than other jobs. The landlords renting to the Chinese plantations know they’re associated with pollution, but to them the exchange seems worth it.
Nong, a food shop owner in Bokeo’s capital Huay Xai, rents out land to a plantation. He said Chinese people started coming to Laos about 20 to 30 years ago, running shops at first before moving into rubber and then bananas about 10 years ago. Nong’s father-in-law has mixed feelings about the Chinese banana plantations. “They are good because they have created jobs, but bad because they use lots of chemicals.”
He explained that the chemicals end up in the rivers and creeks. “Before we could drink the water from the creek and bathe in it, now we cannot, we have to use water from an underground source. There are also far fewer fish because the chemicals have killed them off.”