Farmed fish die off in ponds near banana plantations in Laos

Residents blame chemicals leaking from nearby Chinese-owned plantations.
By RFA Lao
Farmed fish die off in ponds near banana plantations in Laos Dead fish float in a pond in Nayang village, Naxaythong district, Vientiane, Laos, Dec. 3, 2023.
Citizen journalist

Hundreds of farmed fish have died in ponds near Chinese-owned banana plantations near the capital of Laos, something residents told Radio Free Asia they blame on toxic chemical runoff used in banana cultivation.

“Our fish ponds are close to the banana plants … and there is a small creek,” said a villager from Nayang said, insisting he not be identified for fear of reprisal. The ponds lie between 100 to 400 meters (109 to 437 yards) from the banana plantations. 

“On the afternoon of Dec. 3, a white-color water flowed to our fish ponds. After a while, we saw that the fishes started to die,” he said.

The villager said that it seemed like the white color could have come from fertilizers and chemicals used to speed up banana plant growth. 

Over the last few months, the banana trees looked as big as the size of a child’s arm, but now they are as big as the size of my leg,” he said. “I am not the only one seeing dead fishes in my fish pond, and I want the relevant offices to come and inspect the water to see if there is any chemical contamination or it is just natural.”

Chinese-owned banana plantations in Laos have caused both environmental and social problems in Laos, as they are often tied to long term land concessions that are not strictly regulated

The villager noted that none of the ponds had a dying fish problem in previous years – only after the plantation was started.

“There is a fish pond owner living here many years and he’s never seen the dead fish in his pond,” he said. “Suddenly last week, he saw some dead fish in. From what I can tell, the fish unnaturally died and there must be some kind of chemicals contaminating the water.”

Another fish pond owner said that normally he uses water from the fish ponds to water his trees, but he is worried that this would harm them.

“They … just finished their banana plantation. The banana farms are not really far from us,” he said. “We do not want to blame them, but we see that this is something very serious.”

RFA contacted a local official in Naxaythong district who said he was not aware of the situation.

“I have not seen anything and I have not learned anything about this,” he said. “There are no fish dying from chemicals, but there are some fish that died naturally. There are not so many dead fish.

RFA also contacted the natural resources and environment office in the district, but could not reach anyone.

But Lao state media reported that the relevant offices are inspecting the cause of dead fish in the area of Naxaythong district, Vientiane, and will analyze water samples to determine if the water is contaminated with chemicals from Chinese banana plants.

In 2019, the Lao ministry of agriculture and forest reported that there were around 90 companies that owned a total of 15,000 hectares (58 square miles) of banana plantations throughout the country. 

However, in 2022, with the permission of the Lao government, there were around 26,190 hectares (101 square miles) of banana plantations in the country, according to the report from the Statistics Bureau under the Lao Ministry of Planning and Investment. Data for 2023 has not yet been released.

In 2016, then-Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith spoke to the Lao National Assembly that the Lao government will not allow big banana farms to operate in the country due to the impact of chemicals on local communities and environment.

Translated by Phouvong. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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