Unexpected rainfall in Myanmar’s dry zone impacts sesame cultivation

  • By Myanmar Now
  • 07/06/2017

Workers harvesting the sesame plants remain undamaged after heavy rain. (Photo: Htet Khaung Linn/ Myanmar Now)

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Htet Khaung Linn/ Myanmar Now

Myitthar, Kyause — Local officials and farmers in central Myanmar’s dry zone are mulling ways to reduce agricultural losses after unseasonable rainfall attributed to global climate change devastated thousands of acres of sesame crop this year.

Myitthar and Kyaukse townships were some of the most affected. According to the Kyaukse Township Agricultural Department, more than 4,800 acres of summer sesame were damaged by rains and resulting floods.

A total of 31,652 acres of the crop, which produces seeds that are the source of sesame oil, were planted in the area.

“We spent over 500,000 kyats ($366) in plowing, seeds and other labour costs for a total of 10 acres,” said Tin Swe, a farmer in Myitthar. Those 10 acres were ruined.

Changing crops

The farmers in this part of the country are used to adapting. Years ago, they switched from cultivating rice due to a lack of proper irrigation.

“The farmers have not received regular irrigation water for seven years,” said Ye Min Tun, a local MP in Kyaukse. “They changed to growing sesame this year even in lowland areas. As sesame plants are more vulnerable to floods, they suffered losses from flooding this year.”

Kay Thi Aung, a deputy officer at the Department of Agriculture in Kyaukse, said farmers could receive aid this year after the exact figure of damage is submitted to government.

But the exact figure is not known and may even be a source of dispute.

“The local officials need the number of damaged acres within a couple of days, but we could report only some figures of damage as we don’t have enough time to collect the rest,” said San Ngwe, a village administrator in Kyaukse.

While visiting the townships, Myanmar Now found villages still waiting to get government aid for the damage.

“We never received support for any type of crop damage that we experienced each year,” said Zaw Naing, a farmer in Myitthar township. “So we didn’t really report the amount of damage from previous years. But we will try it as we expect some support this year.”

Learning Techniques

MP Ye Min Tun argues that the government and farmers need to work together more. He said agriculture department officials have tried to prod farmers into using more modern techniques to no avail.

Kay Thi Aung from the Kyaukse Department of Agriculture agreed, but pointed out that labour shortages and limited financing make traditional methods of farming more appealing to residents.

“We disseminated knowledge on how to make irrigation channels in sesame fields to prevent serious damage from unseasonal rainfalls. However, many of them failed to practice it,” Kay Thi Aung said.

Zaw Naing, a farmer from Myitthar township, said local residents have even thought about growing something different again.

“Some people suggested us to grow crops that are not very vulnerable to heavy rain. But we are not ready to do it until now,” he added.

MP Ye Min Tun said this might be an alternative option.

“It is not possible to prevent the damage of sesame fields caused by unseasonal rain. The only option to avoid such mishaps is the cultivation of summer paddy that is resistant to slight rainfall. We need to persuade the farmers to do so.”

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