Farmers concerned for post-flood livelihoods

Thursday, August 13, 2015 - 08:38

By Cole Patrick Landfried

The villagers of Lat Pan Kyun traveled three miles to escape the flood waters, and the flood waters traveled three miles with them—the water’s edge is visible from their new location at Be Gyi village, where women and children are housed in spare rooms and buildings.

Lat Pan Kyun village is located in Pakkoku Township in Myanmar’s Dry Zone, an area that has been severely affected by the current floods, the worst in decades.

File 30712Flood Situation in Pakokku Township at early August

ActionAid staff traveled to Be Gyi village to perform a needs assessment for the displaced villagers and returned on 8 August 8 to distribute needed goods and cash to the most vulnerable families. The displaced villagers have been staying in their temporary shelters for over a week, and do not know when they can return to their village.

“Even if no more water rises up, it will be a month before we can go back to the village,” says U Hla Han, the Lat Pan Kyun village headman, referring to the miles-wide expanse of flood water and deep mud between their old village and Be Gyi. “I tried to go back yesterday but the mud was so deep.”

The mud, U Hla Han says, is not only affecting travel and health/sanitation, it also has major medium to long-term implications for the livelihoods of the villagers, who are mostly farmers and casual farm labourers. Normally, productive alluvial soil in the area sits in a thin layer on top of the ground, and sits on top of a layer of clay/mud. The plants that villagers typically grow require this soil for the roots to take nutrition. Now the alluvial soil is covered in mud—the productive soil sits below, in some villages it has been washed away entirely by the current. This will negatively impact local farmers in two key ways detailed below:

Problem: Plowing

“Normally, floods fill the area with some sandy dirt. I have seen a few floods where mud came instead of the sandy soil, but it was 4-5 inches at most, not like this. This will be impossible to plow,” said U Hla Han, referring to the 1-2 feet of mud covering the farmland used by the villagers.

After previous muddy floods, U Hla Han explains, the mud would dry and crack, breaking up the roots of the crops they had planted. The mud would also dry to rock-hard consistency, forcing the farmers to break up the mud by hand. Even still, the sharp mud fragments were hard enough to crack the hooves of the cows they use to tend the fields.  Considering the difficulties they faced with inches of mud, U Hla Han does not know how his village will manage feet of it.

“I do not know how we will be able to grow our crops after this. I do not know when it will be possible,” he says. “I have seen floods every year, and I am over 50 years old. I have never seen water this muddy,” he adds after a moment.

Problem: Crop Choice

“If we try to grow the crops that are typically profitable for us, they will fail due to the mud drying and cracking,” says U Hla Han. As a result, farmers in the village will have to resort to lower-profit crops that are better suited to the new soil conditions.

A few types of bean are good for this soil, says U Hla Han, but last year the beans were not selling at a profitable price.  This year, they will have no choice but to grow such beans. U Hla Han fears that the price will be even worse this year, given the inevitable glut that will result from all other farmers in the area growing the same crop due to similar circumstances.

Faced with this situation, farmers in the village are searching for creative ways to make something of a profit in what remains of the growing season.

“We are hoping that some crop buyers will be willing to come to us to collect the crops, rather than us traveling to them. This could benefit them by allowing them to develop relationships with our farmers, and our farmers will sell to them in the future. We could benefit by saving money on transportation costs and making more profit,” suggested one villager.

Other problems: Livestock

300 cows, formerly kept in Lat Pan Kyun, are now scattered throughout Be Gyi in spare sheds, yards, monastery grounds and alleys. This place constraints not only on living space, but also on the amount of affordable fodder material in the surrounding area. As the influx of livestock depletes the normal supplies of fodder, villagers are having to resort to costlier means for supporting their livestock, pushing them further in debt.

“They go to the forest to gather fodder from tree branches and grass, but it is not enough, so they have to buy it as well,” says U Hla Han.