Concerns for soil quality sparks Sagaing survey
THE Sagaing Region government has begun testing soil in Butalin township after a group of farmers raised concerns over soil contamination through the overuse of fertiliser on land being rented by foreign agricultural producers to grow fruit and vegetables.
They say that the tenants, whom farmers identify as largely Chinese, are also using chemicals and techniques that will yield more and put the produce of local growers at an unfair advantage to grow profitable cash crops that will outperform their own.
The purpose of the tests is to ensure that the soil is not being spoiled by chemicals, said U Thitsar Ni, deputy chair of the Sweet Melon Cucumber Trading Association of Sagaing Region.
Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, the Survey Department, the Consumer Protection Department, the Immigration and National Registration Department and the Township Administration Department are working together on the monitoring operation, he said.
Tests were carried out in Butalin township in mid-October, U Thitsar Ni told The Myanmar Times on October 23.
“Each ministry will pursue its own concerns. The immigration department needs to know if the foreign tenants have the right kind of visas,” he said. “The agricultural department will be looking at the kinds of seeds they’re planting and whether the chemicals they’re using are legally permissible or not.”
The tenants are cultivating borrowed land, he said, and there were concerns from local farmers that if they use too much fertiliser they could destroy the soil.
“We started with Butalin township, and we will also carry out spot checks elsewhere,” he said.
“If we find anything illegal, we will take action. We’ve also asked for an undertaking from the tenants to comply,” he said.
Local farmers say that the foreign tenants made long-term agreements with the landowners, paying between K200,000 and K500,000 per acre for the use of the land.
Watermelons and cucumbers are the most exported fruits, and about 70 percent of the tenants’ crops have already been put on the market, said U Thitsar Ni.
“There’s more demand for their fruit on the foreign market as cultivation techniques are not as advanced as theirs, and our fruit cannot match theirs,” he said.
“We feel very aggrieved that they’ve come here to plant on borrowed land and then to export. They use too much fertiliser, and if the soil is destroyed we will not be able to cultivate it. There is also the risk of bad seeds. We have to think of the ecosystem,” he said.
Recent heavy rains in Sagaing have flooded many watermelon farms and stopped exports, said melon farmer Ko Zaw of nearby Myaung Mya.
“We can’t export fruit now because of the rain. We need improved planting techniques. Some farmers are facing losses,” he said. Requests for comments from the tenants went unanswered. – Translation by Khine Thazin Han
‘We feel very aggrieved that they’ve come here to plant on borrowed land and then to export.’
U Thitsar Ni Sweet melon association, Sagaing
Watermelon are sold on Kanar Street in Mandalay.