CHIANG RAI – A Chinese-owned firm operating banana plantations in Chiang Rai’s Phaya Meng Rai district has caused a water conflict with local farmers.
Local farmers have complained that the Chinese firm pumped water out of the Ing River to its 2,750 rai (440 hectares) of banana plantations at the expense of downstream farmlands.
Phraya Meng Rai district chief Phubet Julayanont said yesterday, he had demanded that the firm remove all pumps along the river or face legal action.
Chief Phubet added that local residents planned to take turns keeping watch to ensure the firm does not secretly use pumps during the night.
Using land leases, the Chinese firm started growing Cavendish banana trees in the district late last year. But only after the ongoing drought unleashed its full wrath did local farmers begin to feel the impact from a limited water supply.
Local farmers’ complaints first got loud last month, with Phubet demanding the Chinese firm stop pumping the water out of the river. After weeks passed, farmers have found that the firm had yet to honour the demand.
“The last time we met, the investor agreed to dig artesian wells for use at its plantations,” Phubet said.
“When local people lodged more complaints, I summoned the firm’s representative. He has explained that the firm had already contacted builders of artesian wells but it is still on the waitlist.”
A local farmer, Tuanchai Walaiskul, said he had not been able to water his banana orchards for more than 15 days because the larger banana plantations had bled the Ing River dry.
In addition to the water issue, residents in Phraya Meng Rai are also worried that the banana plantations of the Chinese firm will spread dangerous chemicals.
Phubet said he had already responded to concerns by ordering soil tests and checks of the local environment. There was no significant contamination from chemicals.
Chief Phubet said authorities would monitor the situation closely to ensure local residents were safe.
According to the Vientiane Times, banana plantations in Laos may harm the environment and farmers’ health. About 8 per cent of banana farmers in northern Laos have reported becoming sick over the past six months.
By Nattawat Laping