Kachin Farmers Condemn Tissue Culture Banana Plantations

Chinese tissue culture banana plantation in Gwi Htu, Waingmaw Township, Kachin State

Locals say they are facing a range of problems and accuse the government of ignoring their concerns around the controversial agricultural projects.

Locals say they are facing a range of problems from damaged farmland to the death of livestock to health issues because of the chemicals used in tissue culture banana plantations in Kachin State’s Waingmaw and Momauk townships.

More than 50 farmers from multiple villages in the two townships held a press conference at Mandalay monastery in the state capital of Myitkyina on Wednesday morning explaining how the China-backed plantations were causing suffering among the local communities.

“[The companies] threatened us by saying that we would have to pay the tax every six months to the government on over 30,000 acres of farmland for 30 years [if the plantations are shut down],” village administrator U Aung Myint said in the press conference, describing the statement as a warning not to oppose the projects. The companies have a 30-year lease on the land.

Local farmers held a press conference at Myitkyina on March 6, 2019

Tissue culture bananas are being cultivated on more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Myitkyina and Bhamo districts in Kachin State.

“Without any official permission, they have grown tissue culture bananas. They also claim that they own this land,” farmer U Tun Aye said of those running the projects.

Farmers said that they don’t want the bananas growing near their villages, and are concerned about chemical runoff from pesticides into local water sources. They claim the land on which the plantations are located in Waingmaw Township was originally seized by the Burma Army Infantry Battalion 58.

They also allege that the government health department has been ignoring patients who complain of suffering ill effects due the pesticide use.

Tissue culture bananas have been banned from being cultivated in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization, following the death of six workers on a plantation near Laiza.

The Kachin State-based Land and Environmental Conservation Network—made up of 11 member organizations—published the report Controversial Green Economy report last year, and estimated that more than 150,000 acres of farmland have been dedicated to tissue culture banana cultivation in Waingmaw, Momauk, and Bhamo townships.

Around 40 companies have grown these banana crops since 2017, with the most being cultivated in Waingmaw.