Rakhine Farmers Caught Between Falling Prices and Rising Labour Costs

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Farmers associations in Rakhine State – one of the biggest rice producing regions in Myanmar – are calling for government aid amid falling prices, closing markets and a shrinking labour pool. But the state government says it does not have the funds or the expertise to help solve what it says is a nationwide problem.

Rice yields in Rakhine State this year are good, say farmers. But China, until last year their main market, is not buying, said Kyauktaw township farmers’ association secretary U Maung Htwe, and prices have fallen by half compared to last year.

“The profits we made last year enabled an improved yield this year. But paddy prices have fallen sharply this year because we can’t export. China isn’t buying. Farmers are losing about K30,000 per acre, more on big farms,” he said.

China has cracked down on what it regards as illegal rice importing along the border with Myanmar. Without any other established export markets, prices for rice and other agricultural goods have plummeted.

As a result, farmers in Rakhine fear they will not be able to pay off bank loans they took out to fund this year’s crop, or plant for next year. The quality and quantity of the summer paddy crop are at risk because of a lack of funds, and farmers fear for the health and education of their families, said U Maung Htwe.

Meanwhile, the steady drain of young people leaving the state to seek work elsewhere continues, reducing the labour pool. Young people in Rakhine State are not interested in farming, he said.

U Maung Htwe said the state government had not yet responded to a plea from 600 local farmers for assistance.

The Rakhine State Minister of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry and Mining, U Kyaw Lwin, told The Myanmar Times that the state authorities could not solve what he said was a problem across the whole country, even if the state had the funds to do so.

“As the whole country is facing this problem, Rakhine State cannot deal with it alone. The Union Government should consult experts and draw up a nationwide plan,” he said.

The Ministry of Commerce told The Myanmar Times last month that the government was preparing a purchase program to buy paddy directly from farmers. But that program will take place across Yangon, Bago and Ayeyarwaddy regions, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the cost of labour has doubled over the past year in Rakhine, while the weak kyat has pushed up the cost of imported goods, said farmer U Shwe Thein, who lives in A Pauk Wa Village in Kyauktaw township.

“When prices fell in the past, expenses were low too. But this year, expenses are high, and we are facing losses. And you can’t get labourers, even at today’s high rates,” he said.

Kyauktaw township farmers want the authorities to propose a plan to help them buy agricultural equipment at low rates to overcome the labour shortage. They warn that up to 25 percent of this year’s paddy crop could go to waste unless measures are adopted.

They also want government help in switching to mung bean cultivation, which they consider a more reliable cash crop than paddy.

Rakhine State is the second-largest rice producer in Myanmar, and Kyauktaw township is considered one of the country’s chief granary states, with almost 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) given over to paddy cultivation.

 

Source: The Myanmar Times

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