Few workers left in deserted Magwe

Villages in Magwe Region are becoming ever more sparsely populated, as men and women move overseas in search of work, leaving few behind to plant and pick the region’s native crops, farmers said.

Flooding in July and August destroyed thousands of acres of farmland, and hundreds of thousands more have been confiscated by the government for other uses, forcing residents to move elsewhere to provide for their families, according to a farmers association.

Local farmers say they are struggling to find workers to plant or pick beans this season. “There are no workers, so our planting and picking have fallen behind,” said farmer U Bo Lay from Byandi village in Aunglan township. Most adults, especially men, have moved to Yangon or to foreign countries such as China, Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand to work, he said. “Women and old people are left in the village. We need more people to pick beans.”

People are abandoning their farming traditions, he said, moving to the cities or overseas to work since 2013.

With a shortage of manpower, farmers have to pay their labourers more, said U Tin Ngwe of Kanpyar village. “The planting fee, too, has risen by three times, and we have to pay workers K6000 or K7000 per day,” he said.

Day-labourers, brought in to meet the shortfall, are typically construction workers and must be paid accordingly, farmers said. If construction workers cannot be found, all the people in the villages work together, said U Nay Lin of Byandi village.

“We need a group of at least 10 people to pick beans and carry out farm work,” he said. “All the people from the village work together including children aged 14 or 15.”

In some families, he said, married women are starting to move abroad, leaving their farmer husbands and their children to look after the land.

“Since last year, a number of women have left for Malaysia to look for work,” he said, “They transfer the money they have earned to their families every few months.” On average a woman might send around K300,000 each time, he said.

Daw Kyi Kyi Myint of Shwe Pann Taw village in Aunglan township said some younger people move to Yangon. “These people cannot afford to move overseas, or do not dare,” she said. “The people who move to Yangon tend not to transfer money back home.”

Farmers said people are abandoning their native villages because changes in weather have destroyed farmland and crops.

On July 31, following devastating flooding, President U Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in four regions and states, including Magwe. Over 60,000 acres of farmland in the region were damaged, according to a government situation report published on September 8. Nearly 65,000 houses were damaged in the region and 414 were destroyed.

The Farmers Union of Magwe Region estimates that 395,778 acres of farmland have been confiscated by the government for other uses.

Unable to support their families at home, people often have no choice but to move elsewhere, they said.

“It is not easy to earn a regular income, it’s hard to secure enough food and the work is tiring in these villages,” said Ko Thaw Zin from Byandi village, who now works in Malaysia.

“Over here, I can get a regular income and it’s much more comfortable than living back home.”

Source: Myanmar Times

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