Farmers point to Cyclone Nargis, which hit the delta in May 2008, as the point at which their calendar went awry.
Since then, erratic weather patterns have made planting and harvesting rice perilous, especially for farmers who depend on rainfall. Too little early in the monsoon season – May to October – or too much at harvest time can destroy a crop.
“Farmers in the delta have yet to recover from the cyclone,” rice expert U Tun Win said, adding that they have had little or no external assistance to cope with erratic weather patterns since then. Farmers say rains have been up to a month late every year since 2010 and that they have had to bump forward planting from the second week of May to mid June.
Besides delayed planning, they are also seeing heavy rains just before or during harvest, which can destroy a season’s crop. Farmers in the Ayeyarwady Region have been the hardest hit. Some say they can adjust to later planting, but once the paddy has been transplanted to fields they cannot prevent its destruction by heavy rains.
Farmer U Sein Win from the region’s Pantanaw township identified heavy rains late in the monsoon season as the main threat, especially for fields lacking drainage systems. Flooding is breaking embankments around fields and ruining crops, he said.
U Ye Min Aung, general secretary of Myanmar Rice Federation, said there is an urgent need for an insurance fund to protect farmers against lost harvests, natural disasters and erratic weather patterns. “We need credit insurance and crop insurance,” he said, adding that insurance will lessen the risk banks face when lending to farmers or specialised rice companies.
A credit insurance system will also allow the development of financial institutions, local microfinance institutions and other insurance businesses necessary to develop the agricultural sector, U Ye Min said.
U Tun Win linked flooding to deforestation and a build up of silt in rivers, streams and lakes. The forestry department is “brave” to claim that 40 percent of Myanmar remains forested, he said. “Just look out the window from Nay Pyi Taw. There are no forests left on the Bago mountain range,” he said.
Financial support for farmers is insufficient, he said. Loans will drive farmers deeper into debt if the underlying causes of the crisis are not addressed, U Tun Win added.