Mudon Township authorities order local farmers to cultivate summer rice, again

November 15, 2008

HURFOM, Mudon Township: Burma’s military government is forcing farmers near the Win-Pha-Non Dam in Mudon Township, Mon State, to cultivate rice during the upcoming dry season. Most farmers, however, say they are reluctant to plant rice during the hot season because yields are typically too low to pay for the investment, leaving farmers mired in cycles of debt.

During the end of October and the beginning of November, U Soe Htay Myin, Secretary of the Mudon Township Peace and Development Council (PDC), and U Min Aye Maung, head of Myanmar Agriculture Service (MAS) in Mudon, called meetings with rice farmers from Doe Mar, Kwan-Ka-Bwe, Set-Twe, Htoon-Marn, Taung-Pa and Kalaw-Thut villages. During the meetings, U Soe Htay Myin and U Min Aye Maung ordered farmers to produce more rice by planting a hot season crop in their recently harvested paddy fields. U Soe Htay Myin explained that the purpose of this project is to solve a rice shortage. The Mudon PDC secretary also said that he was implementing orders given by Major General Thar Aye, Chief of the Bureau of Special Operations for Karen and Mon States and Tennasserim Division, on his visit to Mon State on last month.

According to a source closed to Mudon’s MAS office, the summer planting order applies to 250 acres of paddy, which belong to more than 80 farmers. The recent meetings follow similar meetings reported by the Independent Mon News Agency in September (IMNA). On September 25th, IMNA reported, twelve village tracts in Mudon were ordered to cultivate summer paddy.

Farmers who do not comply with the order risk having their land seized, said the source close to the Mudon MAS office. “If they (farmers) do not implement the project fully, their rice paddies will be confiscated or they will be punished with a heavy fines.” HURFOM’s source mirrors reporting done by IMNA. “If the farmers in the village tracts don’t want to grow summer rice, they will be punished,” IMNA quote Min Aye Maung as saying. “If they do not comply, I will give their land to the other people who will grow the rice.”

The summer planting order will cause significant problems for farmers, because yields are rarely large enough to cover basic farming costs. One farmer, from Kwan-Ka-Bwe village, explained that last year he had to take out loans of more than 100,000 kyat. Many of his neighbors faced similar situations, he said. “I still have to pay my relatives for the cost of seeds, fertilizers and labor from last year. My land can only produce 27 baskets of rice per acre. This year, I might go into more debt because of this demand,” he said.

Farmers expressed trepidation after being instructed to use a type of rice designed by the Mon State MAS, known locally as “Shwe Bo – 1.” Nai Non, 45, a rice farmer from Doe-Mar village, said he do not have confidence in this seed type because he has never tried it before and MAS seeds have performed poorly in the past. “Last year, we were forced to grow the “Manaw-Thukha and Sin-Shwe-War” seed type. MAS authorities claimed that their rice could produce 80 to 100 baskets per acre. In reality, I could only produce 35 baskets per acre. I was not enough to cover the costs of fertilizer and labor. So, I worry about this new type.” In Mudon Township, the market price for a basket of rice seeds for cultivation costs 7,000 to 8,000 kyat.

According to local farmers, most of their expenditures come from hiring workers and buying fertilizer. “I have five acres of rice paddy and I was forced to cultivate three acres of them. I don’t think I can make any profit from growing summer rice due to the high price of fertilizer and labor this year,” said a farmer from KwanKa Bwe. “Another problem is that I have to hire bulls. I only have one bull. I really need to hire another three bulls to make two pairs to dig the soil in my paddies. This year, each bull costs 20 baskets of rice for the whole cultivation season. Labor also costs 3,500 kyat per day at the moment.”

According to Nai Ong Mon, 36, a resident of Abit village, situated closest to the Win-Pha-Non Dam, villagers whose paddies are far from the dam canals can only obtain water by bribing irrigation officers “I heard that some farmers from Htoon-Marn, Taung-Pa and Kalaw-Thut villages have to bribe the irrigation officials 10,000 to 15,000 kyat per acre to  get water to their fields,” said Nai Ong Mon. “If you add the daily costs from the early days of cultivation to harvesting periods, the expense are always higher than the value of products you produce…The authorities ignore the difficulties of the farmers even though they know about these troubles. They only have care about forcing farmers to fully comply with instructions from the upper levels.”

Last year, MAS officials also ordered local farmers to cultivate dry season rice. The order to grow summer rice is a continuation of Burma’s decades old “two crops policy,” which begun in 1962. The program, which was started at the behest of then top general Ne Win, was designed to increase Burma’s flagging rice production. In 2002, the policy became mandatory in parts of Mon State, and farmers began being forced to cultivate summer rice. The program has been, by most measures, an utter disaster in Mon State. Rice production has failed to increase, while farmers have become mired in debt cycles; summer crops lose money, which thin rainy season profit margins can not always pay for.

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