U Nay Aung, a resident of Thauk Kyar village in Dedaye Township, is one of thousands of farmers across the cyclone-affected area who never gave up, succeeding after the fourth attempt to yield some harvest.
In May, his 4.6 hectares of paddy fields were badly affected by the tidal surge that accompanied Cyclone Nargis. When the donated seeds did not take, he borrowed money to buy his own.
However, compared with the previous year, when he managed a US$700 profit from the 8MT of paddy harvested, this December, U Nay Aung harvested less than 5MT while his overheads spiralled following three failed planting attempts.
At a lower market price of about $250/MT, U Nay Aung estimates he will earn less than half the amount in 2007.
The additional debt is making matters worse. Like many farmers in the affected area, he borrowed heavily to get his fields planted in time.
December's monsoon harvest – which accounts for a large part of the country's annual production – yielded less per hectare because of Nargis, which left many paddy fields badly salinated.
Thousands of small time paddy farmers like this one outside Labutta in cyclone-affected southern Myanmar lost everything to Nargis.
Many small time paddy farmers are now in debt
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated rice production for Myanmar in 2007 at just over 30 million MT, with exports of about 600,000 MT, double that of 2006, as the country sought to attract more hard currency, according to Ministry of Commerce statistics.
But according to the ministry, exports of the last harvest up to mid-December were a mere 11,000MT, while the price was less than $300/MT.
At a December seminar of the Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) in Yangon, its chairman, U Win Myint, called for attempts to produce better quality rice to compete with Thai and Vietnamese output in the global market.
In 2007, Thailand, which accounts for a third of global exports, exported more than 9 million MT, topping the list of rice exporters, with Vietnam second with more than 4 million MT, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Before the cyclone, the FAO forecast that Myanmar, once the world's largest exporter, would export 500,000 MT in 2008.
Low yield seeds and low quality harvesting and milling processes contribute to low output and low income for Burmese farmers, according to specialists.
Although Myanmar has more than 8 million hectares of land for paddy growing in two seasons (monsoon and summer), the latest yield is not encouraging. The average per hectare yield was less than 1MT, according to the Ministry of Commerce paper submitted to the UMFCCI meeting.
The monsoon rice crop is usually harvested in November and December, while the summer rice crop is harvested in March and early April.
Meanwhile, farmers in Ayeyarwady delta, which produces a third of the rice crop, are worried.
"This year's rice production from the Ayeyarwady Division may be down 20 percent over last year," one rice trader in Yangon, who declined to be identified, told IRIN.
For U Nay Aung that means an uncertain future burdened with debt in the months ahead.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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