Seminar: Shifting Plantations in the Mekong Borderlands: A Challenge of Chinese Economic Influence in Southeast Asia
THAILAND STUDIES PROGRAMME SEMINAR
About the Seminar
This presentation examines the impact of China’s economic regionalism on sites of intensified resource extraction in the Mekong borderlands. In particular, a Chinese-driven banana boom and the penetration of overland Chinese entrepreneurs have turned farmland along the Mekong River on the Thai-Laos borders into banana production factories and export processing zones over the past decade. It is argued that the Chinese banana industry’s practice of ‘shifting plantations’ has transformed the Mekong borderlands into agricultural frontiers that allow for specific and intensive regimes of resource extraction.
The Mekong Region, especially Laos, has been identified as an ideal place for land acquisitions by Chinese banana-producing investors. In all banana plantations, vast quantities of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are required to maintain monoculture production. This process poses serious health risks to workers and the surrounding environment. After 6 to 10 years of producing fruit on cleared farmland, the company usually abandons it for another plot once factors such as soil depletion and pest infestation begin to lower yields. Since 2016, the government of Laos has issued a ban on new banana plantations. The shifting plantation practices, however, have spread to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, wreaking health and environment havoc along its path.
The case of Chinese banana plantations in Laos is a striking example of some of the challenges posed by Beijing’s economic influence in Southeast Asia.
About the Speaker
Yos Santasombat is Professor of Anthropology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, and Senior Research Scholar, Thailand Research Fund. He is currently a Visiting Fellow in the Thailand Studies Programme of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He is the author of numerous books, including Lak Chang: A Reconstruction of Tai Identity in Daikong (Canberra: Pandanus Books, ANU, 2001), Biodiversity, Local Knowledge and Sustainable Development (Chiang Mai: RSCD, 2003, 2014), Flexible Peasants: Reconceptualising the Third World’s Rural Types (Chiang Mai: RCSD, 2008), The River of Life: Changing Ecosystems of the Mekong Region (Chiang Mai: Mekong Press, 2011), as well as the edited volumes Impact of China’s Rise on the Mekong Region (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and Chinese Capitalism in Southeast Asia: Cultures and Practices (Springer, 2017).