Lao officials say they will not approve any more rubber tree plantation projects until detailed impact studies have been carried out with clear results, and they will, at the same time, review previously approved land concessions granted to private investors. Authorities cite, as the main reason for the decision, drops in raw rubber prices in global markets, especially in China - the market for raw rubber from Laos’ northern provinces - where prices have dropped 50% since February. According to VOA’s Bangkok stringer, the lack of price guarantees by Chinese buyers who, for the past ten years, have been encouraging Lao farmers to grow rubber trees on more than 100 thousand hectares of land, have made the farmers feel that it is not economically worthwhile to continue to plant rubber trees. And if they did, they might be wasting time and opportunity to grow other economic crops that might bring them more lucrative profits.
The Lao government has reportedly leased to both foreign and domestic private investors a large amount of land for the plantation of rubber trees and other economic crops across the country without first performing a systematic study of possible impacts from big projects or a thorough survey of the lands that were leased out, thus causing many legal, social and environmental problems. Many investors have sold their rights in land concessions to other private companies, making illegal business transactions because they are not allowed to do so. Similarly, some lands that the government has leased out to investors overlap farming lands of some local people, creating conflicts between local people and investors, as well as between local people and local government authorities. At the same time, the concession of some areas without forestry survey has led to a massive deforestation, which has created an impact on the environment at a great extent. All this has led the Lao government to decide to review all projects previously approved and licensed to make sure that they are implemented according to agreed-upon action plans, as well as to put a hold on future project approval.
Listen to Songrit’s report for more details in Lao.