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Myanmar farmers find fishing a cheaper option

Aug 19, 2008

Experts feel it’s not a good sign that farmers are resorting to fishing instead of farming in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. Compelled by the necessity of feeding their families, farmers on the hand are hesitant in investing on something that may not give them returns.

Mawlamyinegyun: Under normal circumstances 45-year-old farmer Maung Win would be busy with his paddy fields at this time of year.

“This year, I’m going in for fishing,” he said in a village outside Mawlamyinegyun township, deep inside Myanmar’s cyclone-affected Ayeyarwaddy Delta.

Since Cyclone Nargis struck the area farming has proven virtually impossible.

But Maung Win has some strong reasons for making the switch.

In the aftermath of Nargis, it was unclear what kind of harvest there might be and how he was going to feed his family.

In the aftermath of Nargis, it was unclear what kind of harvest there might be and how he was going to feed his family.

If he wanted to plant this year’s paddy crop, he would be obliged to go into debt to secure the farming tools and seeds he needed - a fact prompting Maung Win, and many others like him, to begin fishing instead.

Agriculture heartland badly affected

According to the Post-Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) report, the cyclone damaged 16,200 hectares (ha) of standing summer paddy crop - equivalent to 80,000 metric tonnes (mt) of production - and paddy and milled rice in farmers’ storage estimated at 251,000 mt.

Damage to farm equipment amounted to close to US$ 4 billion, while 34,000 ha of plantation crops worth $ 3.5 billion were damaged.

With the cyclone striking just prior to the start of the monsoon paddy planting season, it is quite likely there will be further production losses, the report warned.

Losses due to foregone paddy production are estimated at 40-70% of pre-Nargis levels, or 0.8-1.5 million mt, it added.

Given these facts, and with credit so tight, many farmers are now hesitant to invest in something that might fail, prompting many to turn to fishing which does not require as much money as farming.

Given these facts, and with credit so tight, many farmers are now hesitant to invest in something that might fail, prompting many to turn to fishing which does not require as much money as farming.

Maung Win calculates that if he had planted paddy, it would have cost over $700 for his 10 ha of paddy field for the seeds alone, with the cost of power tillers and labour charges added to that.

Fishing - a cheaper alternative

“To go fishing just requires a net. It's not costly,” he said. “But it's dead sure at least you can get fish for your household eating.”

Already some farmers have begun fishing near their homes with nets they found in the floodwaters, while others have begun buying them in the local markets.

The cost of fishing nets varies with size. Most farmers have been opting for small sized nets they can handle easily in the nearby creeks and ponds. They cost a fraction of what it would cost to power till their own fields, the farmers say.

Although some farmers like Maung Win have decided to give up farming, others have opted to fish simply to feed their families - at least in the short term.

Problems with rice seedlings

According to the delta farmers, there are two common problems they are finding with their seedlings.

Firstly, some of the paddy seeds do not grow successfully, and when it comes to replanting, it is already too late.

Secondly, there is the fact that many of the paddy plants are being destroyed by snails washed inland by the cyclone.

Ko Naing, who bought all his farming tools and paddy seeds on installments from the government, echoed this, adding that most farmers in his area were experiencing the same plight.

“Not a good sign”

Like many others, he, too, may give up farming altogether to fish the nearby creeks near his home - a worrying development in an area where agriculture was the driving force behind the local economy.

Prior to Nargis, 50-60% of families in the delta were engaged in agriculture, the PONJA report revealed.

Prior to Nargis, 50-60% of families in the delta were engaged in agriculture, the PONJA report revealed.

Meanwhile, agriculture experts warn that the more farmers face problems with equipment and seeds, the greater the chance that the country will face a rice shortage in future. They are calling on the international community for greater assistance.

“It's not a good sign to see the farmers fishing instead of working on a field,” one local agriculture expert, who preferred anonymity, warned. “Their basic needs should be secured so they can concentrate on their farming,” he said.

Source : IRIN
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