WAIMAW, Kachin State — This 500-acre banana plantation in Kachin State’s Lamyang Township normally comes to life at 7 each morning. Workers, men and women alike, most from Rakhine State, carry freshly cut bunches of green bananas on yokes to processing area where the bananas are rinsed and then soaked in a tank filled with a white chemical solution. No one knows what the solution is, but they say “it is to make the fruits last long.” The bananas are then loaded — under the watchful eyes of Chinese supervisors — onto 12-wheeler trucks that will take them to their final destination: Yunnan Province in China.
“It takes nearly four hours to fully load a truck. After that we get our lunch break,” one worker said.
The scene is a microcosm of the quickly expanding tissue-culture banana plantations in Kachin State. According to the state’s Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Ministry, Kachin has more than 60,000 acres of such plantations. Civil society groups, however, say they have counted more than 170,0000 acres in the state’s Waimaw, Bhamo, Shwegu, Mansi, Momauk and Dokphoneyan townships. Most of the plantations have Chinese backing and are accused of stealing land, damaging the environment and violating their workers’ labor rights.
Tissue-culture banana plantations are banned in Laos and Thailand but have become ubiquitous in war-torn Kachin State. Most of the farmland left behind by displaced ethnic Kachin has been replaced by the plantations.
According to reports from civil society groups, the companies are using insecticides, weed killers and fertilizers and disposing of them carelessly. They say the chemicals have polluted water supplies, poisoning the soil and killing fish and livestock.