Chin farm­ers face up­hill strug­gle to raise farm in­comes

In Myan­mar’s poor­est state, farm­ers face chal­lenges such as iso­la­tion and tough farm­ing con­di­tions as they seek to raise their in­comes.

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Ei Cherry

HTALAN YONG VIL­LAGE, Chin State - Htalan Yong’s vil­lagers have long fol­lowed lo­cal farm­ing tra­di­tions in or­der to live off the Chin State moun­tains’ sparse arable lands. Like pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions, they changed farm plots reg­u­larly, cut­ting down for­est for new cul­ti­va­tion, and leav­ing old ar­eas fal­low.

But in re­cent years, the farm­ers in Htalan Yong be­gan to re­ceive train­ing and information from gov­ern­ment agri­cul­ture of­fices and NGOs on how to in­ten­sify farm meth­ods on ter­raced farm­land and they learned how boost their har­vests from per­ma­nent plots. Siang Cer, 38, and Ngun Cin Sung, 28, said they ben­e­fit­ted from the new meth­ods and the har­vests of each of their 1-acre fields dou­bled to about 60 bas­kets of rice. The pro­duc­tion of veg­eta­bles, such as mus­tard leaf, beans and gar­lic, and fruits, such as pear and grape, rose too.

Af­ter a while, how­ever, the Chin women re­alised they had another ma­jor chal­lenge: find­ing suf­fi­cient de­mand for their sur­plus prod­ucts. The near­est town, Falam, is 19 kilo­me­tres away and get­ting there takes 90 min­utes by car on poor, wind­ing moun­tain roads.

“If we don’t have a mar­ket, we can’t get more op­por­tu­nity from higher yields and our crops will go bad,” said Ngun Cin Sung, a mother of two. “At pre­sent, we have to take a long time even to go to nearby ar­eas.”

Siang Cer said, “The farm­ing busi­ness is frus­trat­ing me at the mo­ment. Although the yield is in­creas­ing we have a very lim­ited mar­ket for our prod­ucts.”

MANY CHAL­LENGES

Iso­la­tion and lack of arable are among a num­ber of chal­lenges that Chin State com­mu­ni­ties face as they try to im­prove their des­per­ately low liv­ing stan­dards, which are the coun­try’s worst.

Some 73 per­cent of roughly 478,000 pop­u­la­tion here live be­low the poverty line, ac­cord­ing to the 2014 Cen­sus, while un­der-five child mor­tal­ity is far higher than the na­tional av­er­age at 90 per 1,000. Only 15 per­cent get elec­tric­ity sup­ply and the ur­ban­i­sa­tion rate is just 21 per­cent.

A World Food Pro­gramme 2013 as­sess­ment said Chin State’s main liveli­hood of shift­ing cul­ti­va­tion is un­der pres­sure and “food in­se­cu­rity is there­fore a cycli­cal and chronic prob­lem.” It noted that, “The lim­ited area of arable farm­land on the steep hilly ar­eas, and grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of the state, shorten the shift­ing cul­ti­va­tion fal­low pe­riod and lead to poor soil fer­til­ity.”

Cli­mate change, ir­reg­u­lar rain­fall and de­for­esta­tion also af­fect food pro­duc­tion and raise the risk of nat­u­ral disas­ter.

RE­BUILD­ING AF­TER DISAS­TER

In 2015, mas­sive land­slides de­stroyed many vil­lages and roads, and af­fected 23,000 peo­ple. Thou­sands of peo­ple were per­ma­nently re­lo­cated to safer ar­eas by au­thor­i­ties and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions started projects to boost lo­cal in­comes.

Harm Nawl Thang moved to Myothit Ward on the edges of Hakha, the China State cap­i­tal, af­ter his house and farm were af­fected by the land­slides. Though his fam­ily is now safer, he said the new site has its prob­lems.

“We get wa­ter here only two days a week, but in our for­mer res­i­den­tial quar­ter we had wa­ter sup­ply ev­ery day. The soil qual­ity here is also lower and school is far­ther for the chil­dren,” he said.Fol­low­ing the disas­ter, the Asian Devel­op­ment Bank be­gan a $10-mil­lion project to re­build in­fra­struc­ture and im­prove disas­ter risk man­age­ment. Con­struc­tion work on roads could be seen on roads at sev­eral sites in Chin State.

Ngun Cin Sung said she hoped Htalan Yong Vil­lage would ben­e­fit from bet­ter road con­nec­tions and pos­si­bly elec­tric­ity sup­ply. The vil­lage’s cur­rent iso­la­tion meant that de­mand for her farm pro­duce from traders in ma­jor towns such as Kalay, in Sa­gaing Re­gion, is ir­reg­u­lar.

“There is no guar­an­tee for our liveli­hood. Although we grow crops, we have to sell them in low price when we have no de­mand from traders,” she said. “And when we face losses we have to bor­row money at high in­ter­est rates.”

IM­PROV­ING FARM­ING

Kil Thu, op­er­a­tion man­ager of Chokhlei Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Ru­ral and Agri­cul­tural Devel­op­ment (CORD), said his NGO is train­ing lo­cals in 38 vil­lages in north­ern Chin State in cre­at­ing ter­race cul­ti­va­tion, con­struc­tion of wa­ter stor­age fa­cil­i­ties and drainage sys­tems, mak­ing or­ganic fer­tiliser and im­proved veg­etable farm­ing.

Kil Thu said CORD is pro­mot­ing ter­race farm­ing in­stead of shift­ing cul­ti­va­tion in or­der to stop de­for­esta­tion, but the av­er­age arable amount of land is small and moun­tain­side farm­ing is dif­fi­cult.

“More spe­cific agri­cul­tural meth­ods are re­quired in this moun­tain­ous re­gion when com­pared with the plains. And some fields of the ter­race cul­ti­va­tion we helped set up were dam­aged due to fre­quent land­slides,” he said. “But lo­cal farm­ers are pa­tient when it comes to the dam­age to their land.”

Nugn Cin Sung, the Htalan Yong vil­lager, said the pro­grammes had helped farm­ers. “Be­fore, grass and weeds were thrown be­side the farm plots, but af­ter the train­ing cour­ses we now turn them into com­post,” she said. “We used to wa­ter the plants with buck­ets, but we now move wa­ter with drainage pipes. It saves time and work.”

A DIF­FI­CULT EVIRONMENT

Kil Thu, of CORD, said NGOs and gov­ern­ment also want to con­vince farm­ers to grow newly in­tro­duced seeds.“It takes more time to grow crops in moun­tain­ous area com­pared with the planes. So lo­cals are in­ter­ested in grow­ing the kinds of plant they are al­ready been fa­mil­iar with,” he said. “It is there­fore es­sen­tial to dis­trib­ute new seeds that can guar­an­tee ben­e­fits to the farm­ers in this area.”

Hom Ki, an of­fi­cer at Agri­cul­tural Depart­ment in Hakha District, said his of­fice lacked enough rice seeds of dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties for dis­tri­bu­tion to lo­cal farm­ers. He said the depart­ment wanted to pro­mote or­chards in the area, but so far it has only 5 acres of land to pro­duce avocado, pear, lemon and chest­nut saplings for dis­tri­bu­tion.

Salai Daniel Tun Tin, a deputy of­fi­cer at Falam Town­ship Agri­cul­tural Depart­ment, said he wel­comed in­ter­na­tional aid projects, though he warned that Chin State needs struc­tural, long-term im­prove­ments in in­fra­struc­ture and agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion.

“Some NGOs… have a lim­ited pe­riod of three or five years for each pro­gramme. When these groups left the area their pro­grammes then stopped,” he said, adding that ways should be found to raise crop prices and im­prove their mar­ket ac­cess.

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