Lao ministry inspecting banana plantations to ensure sustainable agricultural practices

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is inspecting banana plantations across Laos and directing operators to produce their crops in line with sustainable agricultural practices.

The number of investors and banana plantations around the country decreased after the government enforced a ban on granting land for new plantations and shut down companies that had violated regulations, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dr Lien Thikeo, said while responding to a question during the 7th Ordinary Session of the National Assembly’s legislature.

During 2016-17, a total of 117 companies invested in banana plantations covering 26,177 hectares across Laos, and the figures subsequently dropped to 90 companies and 20,408 hectares, according to the Department of Agriculture, he said.

“Actually, the agricultural strategy until 2025 mentions that bananas are one of the main commercial crops for export and it also creates job opportunities and income for local people to reduce poverty,” Dr Lien said.

According to a study by the ministry, Laos exported 260,000 tonnes of bananas worth US$45 million in 2014, excluding trading at local border checkpoints, and in 2018, the value of banana exports was more than US$209.4 million, an almost fivefold increase compared to 2014.

The investments impacted the environment and society because of a lack of management by the government sector, incomplete land allocation, and very little business registration, he explained.

“So, this is the main reason to encourage traders or investors to make direct contracts with farming families for planting after local authorities have been informed. Regulations haven’t been implemented strictly, especially the laws on enterprises, investment promotion, chemical management, plant protection, consumer protection and environmental protection,” Dr Lien said.

In 2014, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a notification to governors of northern provinces to ban individuals and companies from leasing or getting concessions for rice fields in irrigated areas for banana plantations.

In 2015, the Prime Minister’s Office issued an additional notification for implementing the notification of 2014 and controlling the use of herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals in banana plantations.

In 2016, the Prime Minister’s Office issued another notification for resolving environmental issues and the impact of banana plantations and for implementing the notification of 2015.

Follow the three notifications from the Prime Minister’s Office; the ministry appointed technical teams and experts from the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute to conduct inspections on banana plantations in the six northern provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Namtha, Bokeo, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang and Xayaboury.

The study showed banana farming by ethnic groups is a long-standing traditional practice related to their culture and religion. This includes using banana leaves to make “mark beng” (handmade marigold pyramids of banana leaves and flowers) and sweet packs, while the stems and branches can be used to make animal feed and the bananas eaten for nutrition or sold for income.

The three notifications led a large number of banana entrepreneurs to think the government had banned the planting of bananas, but actually, the authorities had banned the cultivation of bananas in rice fields. Banana plantations should follow good agricultural practices to be in line with the government’s clean, green and sustainable policies. They should use herbicides and pesticides of a particular standard and not use chemicals that the Lao government has banned, especially Paraquat and DDT.