Laos’ Ban Chim Village: The First Partnership Between a Chinese NGO and a Chinese Company Overseas

China Development Brief, No. 53 (Spring 2012)

中文 English

This article reports on the new trend of Chinese NGOs following companies overseas to monitor and work with them and other stakeholders to mitigate the social and environmental impact of Chinese investment on local communities abroad.

Breaking the Ice on Joint Cooperation Between GEI and Chinese Companies Overseas

Since 2007, the Chinese NGO, Global Environmental Institute (GEI), has focused its efforts on the environmental and social responsibility of Chinese enterprises with overseas investments. Not only does it hope to encourage the Chinese government to formulate relevant policies (such as a behavioral guidebook for overseas Chinese companies), it also intends to encourage and guide these companies to engage in socially and environmentally responsible behavior. They hope to cooperate with overseas enterprises on environmental protection and community development initiatives, with the aim of protecting the local environment and promoting the economic development of local communities.

The challenge of Chinese NGOs working with Chinese enterprises overseas to develop environmental protection and community development measures has always been a difficult one. Three factors — the weakness of Chinese NGOs, the inveterate dependence of industry on the government, and their limited awareness of environmental and social responsibility — make cooperation extremely difficult. After three years of effort, GEI and the Nam Ngum 5 Power Company Limited,  (hereafter referred to as “the NN5 Power Generation Company”) , Laos branch of China Water Resources and Hydropower Construction Group (hereafter referred to as “Sinohydro”), signed a memorandum of cooperation in December of 2010.  Their plan was to develop programs promoting biogas technology in Ban Chim Village of Phounkhon County in Luang Prabang Province, which was affected by the construction of the NN5 Hydropower Station. By bringing expert Chinese biogas technology into Laos and making full use of livestock manure, they hoped to use this new and renewable clean energy technology for local farming, agriculture, and everyday use. Their aim was to meet Ban Chim Village’s everyday energy demands, improve local villagers’ standard of living, and, at the same time, significantly reduce the rate of deforestation to protect forest ecosystems. This action has created a precedent for cooperation between an NGO and an overseas Chinese enterprise.

Concerning Nam Ngum 5’s Hydropower Station

The NN5 Power Generation Company is the Laos branch of the Sinohydro Company. It is primarily responsible for the construction, operation and management of Sinohydro’s investment in the construction of the Nam Ngum 5 Hydropower Station in Laos. It is also responsible for the construction of Nam Ou River’s cascade hydropower station and the operation and management of Paklay Hydropower station. The Nam Ngum 5 Hydropower Station project is the first hydropower station developed using the BOT (build – operate – transfer) method to appear on the Laotian market. The project is located in Nan Ting River, 300 kilometers north of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, The power station has an installed capacity of 2 x 60MW, an annual generation capacity of 5.07 million kwh, and adjusting for the performance of the plant, a total investment of nearly $200 million. The plan is to close the lock for water storage in March of 2012, and complete the project by the end of 2012.

Method of Cooperation

One could say that the cooperation between GEI and Sinohydro is full of twists and turns. Their best opportunity to work together was in 2008, when domestic and international NGOs began to focus their concerns on the environmental and social problems of companies investing overseas, and domestic and foreign media began reporting on the environmental problems arising from such investment. Hydroelectric dams are one of the areas that received close attention. By invitation, GEI joined International Rivers to visit Sinohydro’s Manager for Public Relations and initiate first contact. In the following year, GEI communicated regularly with Sinohydro. During the same period, GEI did some initial research on overseas corporate environmental policy, and carried out some preliminary advocacy and research on environmental policy directed toward the Laotian government.

GEI submitted a letter of intent to the Laotian government to cooperate on a program to promote community development for those living by the NN 5 Hydropower Station. It was an example of a good opportunity, a good issue, and good preparation that ultimately led to the first cooperation between GEI and Sinohydro’s Laos branch.

The Laos Ban Chim Village project to promote biogas technology is the first instance in which GEI and a Chinese overseas enterprise have cooperated to carry out projects in environmental and community development overseas. GEI and the NN5 Power Generation Company shared project operating costs. The project’s budget is expected to reach $72,100. GEI is responsible for hiring and paying the biogas experts, and supervising the construction progress, accounting for about 30% of the total project cost. The NN5 Power Generation Company will pay the costs of building materials and equipment fees for the construction of the biogas pond, and the local transportation and accommodation costs for the experts and other staff, accounting for about 70% of the total project costs. GEI and NN5 Power Generation Company have conducted several rounds of surveys and studies in the design of the biogas project, have sought the views of the local communities and gained strong support from community residents. This project could not only protect forest ecosystems, but also could increase the quality of life for local residents.

The way in which cooperation came about in this project has become an initial model for cooperation between GEI and other overseas enterprises, for instance in regards to how companies and NGOs can share financing and carrying out environmental protection and community development projects. With the further development of Chinese NGOs and Chinese companies’ growing environmental and community awareness, GEI hopes that in the process of future overseas investment, Chinese companies will actively initiate cooperation with NGOs (with the company bearing the entire project costs). They also hope that companies will not just depend on local government departments, but will submit their community economic recovery and environmental management plans to experienced NGOs to design and implement.  GEI hopes to explore and develop further models of cooperation for Chinese enterprises and NGOs. With their special technical expertise and extensive experience in implementing community and environmental management projects, NGOs could guide and assist companies in fulfilling their environmental and social responsibilities.

Biogas Technology Promotion Projects

NN5 Hydropower Station reservoir is located near Ban Chim Village. It inundated the arable land of 35 households and a large area of lowland grazing land. Each family has been compensated for their loss of land with cash payment, food, and other materials, and villagers have been provided with training in cattle raising and planting technologies. In order to protect the forest surrounding the reservoir, reduce the villagers’ chances to cut down trees on the mountain side, and improve the villagers’ standard of living, GEI and NN5 Power Generation Company have coordinated to develop the biogas technology promotion project.

Ban Chim Village is located in Laos’ mountainous northern territory, and primarily inhabited by ethnic minorities, the majority of whom are Hmong. A Laotian translator once told me that Hmong people are united, are slow to accept new things, have a much slower lifestyle due to generational customs , and are easily satisfied. The biogas promotion and use project has encountered several difficulties.  First, it was difficult to get Laotians to accept and use biogas. Second, the collection of livestock manure has not been easy. Third, there was a lack of technical staff to maintain and manage the project. GEI and NN5 Power Generation Company took one year to ensure the villagers understood biogas and mobilized the enthusiasm of the villagers to use biogas through demonstrations. Due to the behavior of free-range cattle, collection of manure was relatively easy. With enthusiasm high, there was no problem with manure collection. There were many scenes of adults and children all collecting manure on the mountainside. It was reassuring to see indications that they were gradually accepting the biogas project.

The training of technically skilled staff is also very important. GEI and experts selected two people who had expressed interest in biogas and who were acknowledged to have strong skills for three months of training in Laos. GEI composed a manual on biogas construction and use in Laos (in both Chinese and Laotian) as reference for the Laotian construction and technical staff.

Communication is a major obstacle during the construction process. Even though experts and farmers are able to speak directly and in person, they can only hire translators as a bridge to facilitate communication and understanding due to the language barrier. Sometimes this leads to misunderstandings, making it very time consuming for the technical staff. But with the help of translation, everyone can eventually communicate smoothly and learn from each other.

Changes in the Laotian Countryside

A 2008 survey showed that, besides the use of a small amount of wood coal, more than 90% of Ban Chim’s basic energy use is derived from firewood. Every household will, from time to time, go onto the mountain to cut firewood which is used mostly to boil water for cooking, with a smaller amount used for heating.

After the construction of the biogas project, the villagers will no longer have to climb the mountain for firewood, saving them much effort.  A 32 cubic meter biogas pond can save a yearly average of 48 tons of firewood, equivalent to conserving 112 mu (roughly 18.5 acres) of forest. What were once bare and crooked saplings on the mountains surrounding Ban Chim, can now be seen to have recovered their lushness and vigor.

One woman who participated in the construction of the biogas pool said: “Having biogas is very convenient. I use it every day to boil water and make food. I have to go to the mountain for firewood much less often, and there’s less smoke in the house.” This reporter visited a few households that use biogas. It was no longer like it was before when tears rolled down the people’s faces and they could only stay in the room a few minutes. Now the room’s air is fresh, the light is bright, and people no longer have to chat and sleep amidst the smoke.

Biogas has also brought great change to the livelihood of the villagers of Ban Chim. After the biogas project began, the residue was applied to soil as a fertilizer. With the exception of using a herbicide to kill weeds, other kinds of chemical pesticides and fertilizer are no longer used. Villagers also use the biogas residue to spray vegetables, eliminate aphids, and increase vegetable production. In order to increase the rate of seedling germination, biogas residue is also used to soak the seeds.

In addition, by connecting the biogas and the toilets, the water used to flush the toilets can flow directly into the biogas pool, both increasing the raw material in the pool, as well as preventing toilet odor, leading to purer and cleaner air.

Another change within the village is that children can study with the lights on. Before, only 13.3 percent of households in Ban Chim used small hydro or diesel engines. The rest of the households had no power. After the construction of the biogas pool, and the installation of biogas lamps, children can continue to study under their light. When the curtain of night falls, the biogas lamps light up Ban Chim, as well as the hopes of the village.

作为中国的一家本土NGO,全球环境研究所(GEI)自2007年起致力于中国企业对外投资中的环境和社会责任研究,不仅希望能推动中国政府制定相关政策 (如中国企业对外投资的环境行为指南),鼓励和指导企业在对外投资中的环境和社会行为;还希望能与企业在海外开展环境保护和社区发展的合作,保护当地环 境,促进当地社区经济发展。
中国NGO与中国企业在海外合作开展环境保护和社区发展工作一直都是一道难题,中国NGO力量薄弱,长期以来企业对政府的依赖,以及企业对环境和社会责任 认识的不足,三方面原因导致双方合作困难。历经3年的努力,GEI与中国水利水电建设集团(以下简称“Sinohydro”)老挝南俄5发电有限公司(以 下简称“NN5发电公司”)于2010年12月签订合作备忘录,计划在南俄5水电站建设影响的琅勃拉邦省扑坤县班井村开展沼气技术推广项目,将优良的中国 沼气技术引入老挝,充分利用禽畜粪便,使沼气这一新型可再生清洁能源技术有效运用于当地养殖业、种植业、生活用能等领域,以期解决班井村生活用能需求,提 高当地村民生活生计水平,同时显著降低森林砍伐率,保护森林生态系统。此举开创了本土NGO与中国海外企业合作的先河。
NN5发电公司是 Sinohydro在老挝的分公司,主要负责管理Sinohydro在老挝投资的南俄5水电站项目的建设、运行和管理,以及即将修建 的南乌江梯级水电站巴莱水电站的建设和运行。南俄5水电站是Sinohydro在老挝市场上第一个以BOT(建设—运营—移交)方式进行开发的水电站, 项目位于距老挝首都万象北部300公里的南汀河上。电站装机容量2×60MW,年发电量5.07亿千瓦时,为年调节性能电站,项目总投资近2亿美元。计划 于2012年3月开始下闸蓄水,2012年底竣工。
GEI与Sinohydro的合作可谓是一波三折。最好的契机在2008年,这一年国内外非政府组织开始全面关注海外投资企业的环境和社会问题,国内外媒 体争相报道海外企业在境外投资中出现的环境问题。而水电大坝是备受关注的领域之一,受国际河流组织的邀请,GEI与其共同拜访Sinohydro对外联络 总经理,并建立了初步联系。此后一年里GEI多次与Sinohydro交流联络,恰逢此时,GEI的海外企业环境政策项目研究已有初期成果,还针对老挝政府开展了初步的环境政策的倡导和研究。
故向其提交了合作意向函,就老挝南俄5水电站的社区发展项目进行合作。一个好的时机、一个好的议题,加上充分的准备 最终推动了GEI与Sinohydro老挝分公司的初次合作。
老挝班井村沼气技术推广项目是第一个GEI与中国海外企业在海外开展环境保护和社区发展的合作项目。GEI和NN5公司共同承担项目运行费用,项目预算约 为72 100美元,其中GEI负责聘请和支付沼气技术专家的费用,并监督施工进度,占项目总费用的30%左右;NN5发电公司支付沼气池修建过程的建材 费及设备费、专家等人员在当地的交通和食宿费,占项目总费用的70%左右。GEI和NN5在经多次调查与研究,设计出沼气项目,并征询了当地社区居民意 见,得到社区居民的大力支持。此项目不仅可保护森林生态系统,还可提高当地居民的生活质量。
项目的合作方式为GEI与海外企业合作的初期模式,即企业和NGO共同出资,开展环境保护和社区发展项目,而随着中国NGO的发展以及中国企业环境和社会 意识的认知增强,希望在未来的海外投资过程中,中国企业能积极主动与NGO合作(企业承担全部的项目经费),把其社区经济恢复计划和环境管理规划交予有经 验的NGO负责设计和实施,而不是只依赖于当地政府部门(初期和后期合作模式请见图1)。GEI希望通过相关的探索,建立中国企业和中国NGO合作模式, 以NGO的专业技能和丰富经验设计来实施社会和环境管理项目,指导和帮助企业执行社会责任和环境责任。
南俄5水电站水库位于班井村附近,淹没了村里35户人家的耕地以及村里大面积的低地放牧地,被占用的土地以现金、粮食等方式补偿到每户,并为村民提供养牛 和种植等技术的培训。为保护库区周围的森林,减少村民上山砍伐的机会,提高村民的生活质量,GEI和NN5发电公司合作开展了沼气技术推广项目。
由于班井村位于老挝北部山区,是少数民族聚居区,村里大部分人是苗族。老挝翻译曾对我说,苗族人团结,接受新事物比较慢,世代的生活习惯使其节奏缓慢,容 易满足。故在沼气推广和使用项目存在很大困难,一是使其接受并使用沼气很难;二是牲畜散养导致粪便收集不易;三是后期缺乏技术人员维护和管理。GEI和 NN5公司用1年时间使村民了解沼气,并通过一期的示范,调动了村民使用沼气的积极性。牛在野外是群居生活,粪便也是集中连片的,收集相对容易,村民积极 性高了,牛粪收集更不是问题,看到大人和孩子在山间收集牛粪的场景,很令人欣慰,说明他们逐渐接受了沼气。
一家修建沼气池的女主人说:“有了沼气太方便了,我每天都用来做饭烧水。也很少上山砍柴了,家里也没有烟了。”笔者走访了几家使用沼气池的农户,不再像第 一次进去时那样,呛得眼泪直流,只能在屋里呆几分钟。现在屋里空气清新了,看着也亮堂了,人们不再是隔着烟雾聊天睡觉了。

Overseas Investment and Environmental Policy Project Officer for GEI E-mail:

Translated by Kate Smith

Reviewed by Phil Rogers

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