Mining lays waste to central region farmlands

April, 14/2017 - 09:00

The many mineral exploitation projects in the central region of Việt Nam, either those legally licensed or unauthorised ones, have made a tangible impact on farmlands, particularly in the central provinces of Bình Định and Quảng Nam.

Farmland in Phước Thành Commune, central Bình Định Province has been too severely eroded to be of use. — Photo
Viet Nam News

BÌNH ĐỊNH — The many mineral exploitation projects in the central region of Việt Nam, either those legally licensed or unauthorised ones, have made a tangible impact on farmlands, particularly in the central provinces of Bình Định and Quảng Nam.

For example, the stone mining at Hòn Chà Mountain in Phước Thành Commune of Bình Định Province, operated by Hoàn Cầu Granite Co Ltd, has virtually ruined nearby vegetation. Excavators operating around the clock have laid waste to the sides of the mountain. After heavy rainfall, water flows carry loose soil and sand downhill to the fields below, burying hectares of crops under thick mud.

Nguyễn Văn Thạnh, a farmer from Phước Thành Commune, said his five sào farm (1 sào = 250sq.m) suffered from soil erosion. “Four sào have been recovered, and the Hoàn Cầu Company provided support in terms of fertiliser, however, the output still only reached half of what it used to be,” Thạnh said.

The remaining farmland was covered with so much sand that there was nothing else to be done, so the company decided to pay compensation of VNĐ1.5 million (US$66) for each crop season. “But that’s just a temporary solution. I want the company to clear the debris so I can resume normal production,” he added.

Lê Văn Đồng, chairman of the Phước Thành Commune People’s Committee, said the compensation for the 2016-17 winter-spring crop season was late, making farmers angry. Đồng said authorities would force the company to proceed with reclamation activities, returning arable land to the farmers.

Đồng also said the company has not performed its obligations in designing the clarifier (settling tank to remove solids deposited by sedimentation) and water canals. “The company is all promises,” he complained.

Huỳnh Thanh Phương from the Department of Natural Resources of Tuy Phước District said authorities have met the company managers a few times, asking them to build concrete water canals to replace the ditches they are currently using and avoid erosion in anticipation of the coming rain season.

“Also, the compensation must be stopped soon in favour of real measures that get farmland back to the farmers,” Phương added.

Dust that won’t settle

Cát Trinh Commune authorities (Phù Cát District, Bình Định Province) intended to improve the quality of soil in their jurisdiction, as well as to conduct land aggregation to aid in the modernisation of local agriculture. Hưng Thiên Long Co Ltd was entrusted with this task.

However, aside from rehabilitating the fields, the company also brought in a convoy of excavators and trucks to exploit the clay below the fields to sell for handsome profits, leaving the farmers to suffer the consequences.

According to the contract, the company is supposed to renovate a total farmland of nearly 45,000sq.m (40,550cu.m of soil in total) in one year, from 2016 October to 2017 October. The specific tasks to be carried out include leveling, building intra-field roads as well as an irrigation system for better productivity. The company is allowed to make profits on "excess" soil from these land preparation operations.

Nông thôn ngày nay (Countryside Today) reports that the company’s trucks start their noisy operation at 3am, creating a permanent dust cloud, degrading the roads. "Residents have protested numerous times by blocking the trucks’ path, and watering the roads to prevent dust,” said Nguyễn Thị Lan, 69, of Phú Nhơn Village.

The truck drivers say the clay will be sold to a brick plant in another district, and the rest will be sold to orchards or other construction projects in the area.

Đinh Nhật Thiên Long, director of Hưng Thiên Long Company, denied the allegations, claiming the soil is used solely in the Phù Cát District, not sold outside.

Cát Trinh Commune authorities confirmed that the excess soil will be used to elevate the ground of the local stadium and future housing, saying the company can sell the excess to orchard owners who want to elevate their land and use the revenues for farmland renovation operations.

According to the commune’s inspections in 2016, the company’s trucks did affect local residents. However, commune authorities did not require the company to register the amount of excess soil, violating the Law on Minerals. The farmland renovation scheme, was not preceded by an environmental assessment, which violates the Law on Environment Protection.

Last month, local authorities finally ordered the company to register the excess soil amount for approval by Bình Định Province authorities. An environmental assessment was also made obligatory. The transportation of "excess" soil will only be resumed after these documents have been obtained.

Huỳnh Quanh Vinh, deputy head of the Bình Định Province’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment, said the department has not received any document from the company. “Overexploitation of the clay will deprive the land of its ability to hold water. The quality of the land will suffer, and so will the farmers. We will conduct a field trip to assess the situation in the area,” Vinh added.

Same old issue

In Quảng Nam Province – rich with gold, sand and coal – numerous regulations have been issued to protect these resources, but illegal operations still find ways to continue, posing risks to local lives and environment.

Lê Văn Hồng, 70, of Điện Bàn Town in the province, said sand mining projects are to be found all over the Thu Bồn River banks, which he said is most responsible for causing erosion, even more than flooding.

According to Võ Văn Minh, 74, exploitation is legal during the day, but the ships also operate illegally after dark. “People’s farmlands are shrinking,” Minh said.

Trần Tinh, Điện Trung Commune chairman, said last year that erosion took place along 300m of river banks, and nearly 2ha of land had been lost to water. “We know that they still covertly conduct exploitation at nights, and we don’t have the vehicles to check up on their ships. Even if we could catch them red-handed, they can always produce some sort of likely fabricated legal documents that we have no way to verify,” Tinh said.

Responding to people’s complaints, Nguyễn Viễn, head of the Quảng Nam provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment, has ordered Điện Bàn Town to investigate the illegal exploitation.

In a report submitted to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Quảng Nam Province said scattered distribution of mineral resources has made it difficult to manage. The province also admitted some commune authorities had not done a satisfactory job of protecting natural resources.

In 2016, 223 inspections were conducted in Quảng Nam Province: 340 combustion engines, 26 suction parts, 10  generators, 362 sheds were destroyed, thousands of workers were banished from illegal mining areas. Fines worth VNĐ3.9 billion ($172,000) were issued in 166 violations. — VNS