Thu 10 Oct 2013
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
Heavy rain during this year’s harvest has destroyed crops in Chin State and left residents facing severe food shortages, local politicians say.
“This year it rained late and heavily in Chin State,” said U Zo Zam, a representative in the Chin State Hluttaw and chairman of the Chin National Party. “Many farms were ruined and farm products are gone.”
The hardest-hit townships include Tlangtlang, Tiddim, Mindat, and Paletwa, he said. In the more remote areas, NGO or government aid workers are having trouble reaching affected villages because roads have been washed away.
The damage caused by the rains has doubled the price of rice, with a pyi – a small basket of rice weighing about 2 kilograms – rising from K500 to K1000. U Zo Zam said the shortage could worsen if the weather is too dry when farmers plant their next crop in March 2014.
“This situation is getting worse and worse. But we can’t take any measures to protect ourselves because this is a natural disaster,” he said.
The Food Security Information Network confirmed in its July update that food shortages are “pronounced” in Chin State. Monsoon paddy harvests were insufficient to cover food needs in 2012 and communities were already facing a “longer than normal food gap”, it said, before heavy rain in July hurt this year’s paddy production.
It noted, however, that low yields and crop failures have grown increasingly common in the state “due to the continued reliance on shifting cultivation as opposed to more sustainable farming systems”.
Shifting cultivation “places stress on land, resulting in lower and lower yields as the fallow period for land grows shorter”, the network said, adding that NGOs are working to help communities develop more sustainable forms of agriculture.
“In July, reports of food shortages persisted, with indications that shortages are significant enough to force households to change consumption patterns,” it said. “Notably, several villages in Thantlang township … requested food assistance in July, despite having received assistance from the government several months ago.”
The food shortages of the past 18 months are a significant setback for residents only just recovering from 2009, when a plague of rats – capable of destroying a farm in five minutes – spread across the state after bamboo in the region flowered.
While international donors provided food to communities affected by the rat plague, Ko Shane Tun, general secretary of the Chin Progressive Party, said fewer organisations are interested in helping Chin State this year. The food shortage is galvanising local politicians, however.
“Chin political parties will discuss the food shortage in Chin State in cooperation with one another and we will ask to talk about it in the hluttaw,” he said.
One local newspaper has reported that the World Food Programme, which handed out rice in 2009, is providing support to 26 villages in Tlangtlang township. But Ko Shane Tun said people in the most remote areas are depending on jungle fruits and roots. He said that assistance from aid organisations, while important, is not enough to solve the problem.
“We cannot depend only on NGOs and INGOs because their projects are limited,” U Zo Zam said agreed. “The government has to help solve this problem.”
The WFP could not be reached for comment last week.