(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Cyclone farmers await assistance

Farmers in Myanmar's cyclone-affected Ayeyarwady delta struggle to put together a power tiller. Thousands of farmers lost their equipment to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.
Lynn Maung/IRIN

A 24-year-old farmer lost most of his family, as well as his prized water buffaloes, to the cyclone but says he is still waiting for the power tillers local authorities promised to distribute in Kunchankone, one of the worst-affected townships in Yangon Division.

He had come to Kunchankone from his village in the hopes of rebuilding his livelihood, only to return home empty-handed, after an announcement of a government scheme for farmers to purchase power tillers in three separate instalments over the next few years.

According to a recent assessment by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), some 52,000 farmers will be unable to cultivate monsoon crops this year unless they receive help.

“If this is translated to hectares, based on the average farm size, and on the average paddy land size, we are roughly talking about 183,000 hectares of paddy land which would be lost for this particular season,” Albert Lieberg, mission leader for the FAO’s needs assessment, said.

Cyclone Nargis devastated Ayeyarwady Delta as well as parts of Yangon Division on 2 and 3 May. An estimated 120,000 water buffaloes and draught animals, vital to plough the agricultural heartland of Myanmar, were lost in the storm.

With the majority of cyclone survivors largely dependent on agriculture and having lost their production assets, including seeds, fertilisers, tools and draught animals, they will need outside support.

“They will remain dependent on external aid for a long time,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, the FAO’s deputy regional representative, in Bangkok.

Bleak prospects

Farmers fear they will miss this year’s rice planting season altogether.

“There is a silent Nargis waiting ahead,” said one. “We are sure to starve if we miss this season.”

The category four storm affected 60 percent of 1.3 million hectares of rice paddy; 16 percent “seriously”, the FAO reported.

According to Myanmar’s Agriculture Ministry, some 13,600 power tillers are needed in the cyclone-affected area, with each tilling machine expected to plough two hectares per day in the coming weeks.


Photo: Contributor/IRIN
A farmer ploughs his field in the Ayeyarwady delta

So far, the government has distributed 5,000 power tillers, in addition to those tillers provided by private donors and the humanitarian community at large.

But with the end of the planting season fast approaching, even if farmers have the machines they need, it is unlikely they will be able to complete the task.

Buffalo vs tiller

Many farmers complain they do not know how to operate the equipment. Others still prefer to use the more traditional water buffalo – if they survived the storm. Another factor is the rising cost of diesel fuel. Before Nargis, one gallon of diesel cost approximately US$4; now it is almost $6.

In addition, most farmers lack seeds, with some reports suggesting that up to 85 percent of seed stocks in the affected area were destroyed, leaving farmers dependent on seeds brought in from outside.

Another factor is an expected shortage of labour. Farmers said there would not be sufficient employees to work their fields since tens of thousands of landless farmers were killed in the storm.

However, the government is adamant there is no shortage. At a meeting with international relief agencies on 10 June, National Planning Minister Soe Tha said: “Some organisations were spreading groundless information such as there is or will be a shortage of rice in Myanmar. We have enough rice and we can distribute sufficiently.”

lm/ds/mw

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