China wants bananas. Cambodia’s banana workers, exporting mainly to China, are getting sick, blaming the chemicals they use. But no one is listening

Cambodian banana exports to China have surged in recent years, but reports abound of exploitation and endangerment across Cambodia’s banana farms.

When the inhabitants of Trapeang Rung learned in 2017 that a 1,000-hectare banana plantation would be established in their village by Longmate Agriculture and was set to provide hundreds of jobs, there was jubilation, recalls Kem Lot. The 59-year-old was hired by Longmate Agriculture in April 2018.

For the villagers, Longmate’s banana farm represented an opportunity – a rarity in the rural bowels of coastal Kampot province – and Kem Lot, like many of his neighbours in the small farming community, was excited by the prospect of not having to migrate elsewhere in Cambodia to pay off the debts he had taken on.

The prospect of earning US$230 a month for maintaining some 2,000 banana trees struck most as a good deal; some even sold their land to Longmate, which in return, Kem Lot says, promised them “work for life”.

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