Phu Tho struggling to come to grips with farm pollution

December 23, 2020 | 09:00
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The long story of environmental pollution and lack of responsibility from large-scale livestock companies in Vietnam has yet to end, and now the issue is rearing its ugly head in the northern province of Phu Tho.
1523 p15 phu tho struggling to come to grips with farm pollution
A pig farm under the management of Dabaco Group is part of the new pollution scandal erupting in Phu Tho province, Photo:

Arriving in Dong Luong commune in Phu Tho’s Cam Khe district, visitors are welcomed by peace and quiet on a cold winter’s day. Lakes and ponds are calm, while a series of acacia and eucalyptus lightly wave with the wind.

However, after talking with local people who were herding buffaloes and cows across the road, it became clear that their lives have been far from peaceful. “Noon is the only time of the day that we can enjoy some fresh air,” said Hong Van, a local woman. “We have to put up with the stench in the early morning and late afternoon every day.”

Hong Van told VIR that they have been forced to get used to afternoon discharge of waste from a large farm in a neighbouring district. “We often close all the doors and windows in the morning and late afternoon to keep the stench out. We use face masks even at home and in bed,” she explained. “In the summer, the stench is the strongest. We are worried about the health of our families, especially children.”

The pig farm is run by Dabaco Group, one of the leading Vietnamese companies in agriculture and husbandry. With a scale of 4,800 sows on an area of 65 hectares in Tam Nong district’s Te Le commune, and productivity of 130,000 commercial pigs for meat, this is one of the largest pig breeding farms in the north.

Despite being located next to a mountain and covered by trees, Dabaco’s farm has still caused a lot of trouble for local people and the environment. “The farm discharges wastewater into the surrounding lakes and ponds, killing all of the pond life. All they did was to buy the lakes and ponds to continue in peace,” explained Long Ty, head of a village in Quang Huc commune next to the farm.

“The stench of pig manure is stinging our eyes every day and makes us sick. Some young men in the village proposed to meet or even fight against the farm, but I persuaded them not to,” the old man said.

Dabaco’s is not the only large-scale farm in the area. A chicken farm run by Hoa Phat Group located in Dong Luong commune, 1km from Dabaco’s facility, is also stinking up its surroundings with its wastewater discharge.

“The pollution is getting so heavy and serious that our silkworms no longer grow to make silk, and the bees cannot make any honey,” said Tuyet, a local woman who works in cultivation.

1523 p15 phu tho struggling to come to grips with farm pollution
Nearby Hoa Phat Phu Tho poultry farm has had to pay fines for environmental violations

Government issues

Vu Xuan Tam, Chairman of Quang Huc People’s Committee, said that although the two farms are not located in his commune, his predecessor warned him that the locals had been directly suffering from both air and water pollution caused by the two farms for many years.

However, he explained that he only took his seat a short time ago and has yet to directly receive any complaints from local people.

“We invited representatives of Dabaco Phu Tho to discuss the issue and they also committed to thoroughly deal with it. The two parties reached a compromise to organise regular meetings to discuss and update information about Dabaco’s waste treatment system,” Tam said.

Those local people, however, told VIR they are still concerned about the transparency in the working process between leaders of communes and companies. Some believe that the local authorities have received under-the-table fees from the companies in return for ignoring the violations.

“A local reporter has written numerous articles and even produced a fly-on-the-wall video about the companies’ violation in discharging wastewater into the ponds and lakes – however, the issue has yet to be solved,” said Nga, a woman living in Quang Huc commune.

Both companies have had to pay fines for violations in the past. In last November last year, Phu Tho People’s Committee issued a fine worth over VND442 million ($19,200) to Hoa Phat Phu Tho Poultry One Member Co., Ltd. for environmental violations. The company did not move manure to the treatment area to be processed into organic fertiliser but rather stored it in the reservoirs on site. This act violated the approved environmental impact assessment report.

Along with the fine, the company has been told to strengthen the embankment to ensure that water and manure from the pit latrines and lakes cannot flow into the environment, along with urgently implementing measures to improve and restore the polluted area.

In 2018, the Environmental Police Department of Phu Tho Public Security also issued a fine worth VND70 million ($3,000) to Hoa Phat for the improper implementation of one section of the environmental impact assessment report.

Continuing violations

Elsewhere, in April 2019, hundreds of people in Long Son commune marched at the headquarters of Hoa Phat Bac Giang One Member Co., Ltd. – the owner of one of the largest pig farms in Bac Giang province – to protest against the company’s activities in discharging wastewater into the river and canals, impacting farming and cultivation areas in the vicinity.

The local authorities inspected and discovered that the company’s discharged wastewater volumes were 5-10 times higher than the permitted level. The waste from the farm also exceeded the permitted standards.

As a result, the company suffered a fine of VND540 million ($23,500). Just six months ago, it was also fined VND312 million ($13,600) for discharging wastewater beyond the permitted technical regulations.

Regarding Dabaco’s violations, Phu Tho People’s Committee in March issued a fine of VND300 million ($13,000) to the group after it constructed a cattle and poultry breeding farm in Tam Nong district without proper licences.

Project manager Do Viet Quan said that the company built two systems to deal with the environmental issue at a cost of VND20 billion ($870,000). However, the company made some changes to the project’s planning and thus did not submit the dossier to attain certification. “We reported this change to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development but were refused a licence. As a result, the provincial People’s Committee issued the fine,” Quan said.

Several other farms under Dabaco Group management in Bac Ninh, Haiphong, Phu Tho, Ha Nam, and Ha Tinh provinces have been fined in recent times for violations relating to discharge of waste into the environment.

A few months ago, VIR reported on another pollution case involving Dabaco in Tuyen Quang province's Son Duong district. In April, local media also reported that people living in Tan Chi commune, in Bac Ninh’s Tien Du district, complained about the stink wafting from the company’s local cattle and poultry breeding farm. According to locals, that particular issue had been festering for six years, with the canals and ditches around the farms being choked by black wastewater.

By Oanh Hara

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