Returning displaced people (IDPs) in Arakan State say they lack the seeds, machinery and other inputs needed to grow paddy this rainy season.
Rice is Myanmar’s staple crop and is grown across the country, but paddy is mainly grown in the rainy season due to limited access to irrigation systems during the hot season.
Returnees say they do not have the paddy seeds, tractors or cattle to grow paddy during the coming rainy season, which normally begins in earnest in late May or early June.
“I could not grow paddy last year. This year, some have paddy seeds, but some don’t; not even a single seed,” said farmer U Maung Tun Sein of Kanpyin village in Rathedaung Township. “We don’t have cows or buffaloes to plough paddy fields. And we have no tractors as we fled the fighting. We had to sell all our cattle during the conflict. Some cattle died and some were stolen while we were away.”
Farmers need paddy seeds and farming implements as soon as possible, otherwise it will be too late to grow monsoon paddy, said U Maung Tun Sein.
U Khin Tun Aye, a local farmer from Nyaungkan village in Myebon Township, said late paddy cultivation can result in a poor harvest.
“Without help from authorities, we won’t be able to grow monsoon paddy this year too. If they are to provide assistance, they must do so early,” he said. “If we are late in growing paddy, the rice plants will not grow well and the harvest will be poor. We need tractors and paddy seeds.”
With clashes having virtually ceased in Arakan State since November, tens of thousands of IDPs have returned to their homes. At a period of precarious transition, the returnees must be provided with assistance to enable them to grow paddy during the coming rainy season, said Ko Zaw Zaw Tun of the Rakhine Ethnics Congress.
“There is a need to provide the returnees with necessary machinery and funding so that they can restore their livelihoods when they get back to their villages. If assistance is not provided for them, their food security will be seriously jeopardised,” he said.
Much of Arakan State’s population relies on subsistence agriculture, but armed conflict in the state has forced numerous farmers away from their farmland for years. Meanwhile, labour scarcity and high operation costs have also negatively impacted the state’s agricultural industry, according to the chairman of the Arakan Farmers’ Union, U Kyaw Zan.
“As more people have left the state to work in other parts of the country and abroad, more farmland has been left idle,” he said.
A survey compiled by the Arakan Farmers’ Union in 2019 showed that monsoon paddy could not be grown on some 200,000 acres of farmland in Arakan State, about 50,000 acres of which went uncultivated due to clashes.