Kachin State - Myanmar

Chinese-backed banana plantations prompt fear of environmental damage

In late October, the banana plantations in Waingmaw Township were almost ready to harvest. The final destination of the fruit is the shelves of supermarkets in neighboring China, not Myanmar.

Waingmaw hosts most of the banana plantations backed by Chinese businesses, along with those near the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, and nearby Bhamo Township. Dubbed tissue-cultured bananas, the green bananas are bigger than the normal yellow fruit and they are grown with Chinese technology. They need special treatment and insecticides, mostly in the early stages, and are wrapped in plastic sheets and foam to prevent insect infections.

However, after harvesting, the plantations are left strewn with rejected bananas, pesticide bags and abandoned plastic sheets.

In the decade since the Chinese-backed banana plantations first appeared in Myanmar, more than 100 companies have leased tens of thousands of acres in Waingmaw, Myitkyina and Bhamo townships. Traditional crops such as paddy, corn, chilis and watermelon have a limited market, so many farmers have leased their land to the Chinese-backed companies.

For Kachin farmers, selling their crops cannot compete with the lump sum of 200,000-300,000 kyats (US$130-200) per acre each year they make from leasing their land. Farmers are now seeing the consequences of the plantations. The pesticides used on the bananas are affecting the naturally grown crops, farmers claim.

Land ownership disputes have arisen because many farmers use customary land tenure and they did not have the formal registration. Social problems have also been caused by an influx of migrants from elsewhere in Myanmar and China.

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