From the Christian Science Monitor, we learn more about the failing rice production in Myanmar.
The cyclone opened the door to more humanitarian aid for Burma (Myanmar), the poorest country in Southeast Asia. It also led to a rare debate between its military rulers and foreign donors over how to tackle poverty among farmers and fishermen left at the mercy of natural disasters.
The result has been tentative efforts to reform the dismal rice sector and channel more assistance to rural communities. Development experts say much more outside help is needed, including commercial bank loans, to boost productivity and reverse a longtime trend of rice farmers falling into debt and losing their land.
The end goal, say these experts and independent economists, should be a vibrant rice industry that can underpin broader economic growth, as it has in Thailand and Vietnam, the world’s largest rice exporters, a title that Burma last held in the 1930s. By contrast, few buyers snap up Burmese rice, which is grown from low-quality seeds and milled in rusted factories.
“If you want to revitalize the country, you must look at the rural economy,” says Noleen Heyzer, United Nations undersecretary general and head of its Asia headquarters in Bangkok.
At the tumbledown house of Kyaw Myint, the prospects look bleak. He owns 20 acres of rice paddy along the riverbank and has set aside the seeds from his last crop. But he will only plant some of his fields this year because he can’t afford fertilizer, pesticides, or quality seeds. A rice merchant who used to give him credit stopped after the cyclone, and the government agricultural bank will only lend $20 per acre, much less than the $100 or so that a farmer typically spends to produce a crop.
Even if Kyaw Myint, not his real name, did get a loan, he worries that he won’t make enough from his harvest in November, leaving him in hock to creditors. “We’re running in circles,” he says.