Burma Focuses on Law to Protect Farmers

By Chit Hsu 5 April 2013

Burma’s Lower House will draft a law to protect peasants, which includes provisions on alleviation of debt and poverty, according to sources.

Chit Khaing, the chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), told The Irrawaddy that Parliament is planning to draft a law on the issue soon. He said it was a focal issue at a seminar on the protection of farmers held in Naypyidaw on Monday.

“The law will focus on debt and poverty alleviation,” said the MRF chairman.

He added that most of the farmers, who make up of about 70 percent of the country’s population, are currently caught in a vicious cycle of debt.

Myint Lwin, a lawyer promoting peasants’ rights, stressed that farmers have stayed poor throughout the reign of successive governments and their poverty rate is getting higher because they are only allowed to grow certain crops under government regulations. They are also not allowed to own their lands.

“Farmers have to grow crops based on the government’s will,” said the lawyer. “In fact, they should be given the right to grow and sell crops which let them make a profit.”

Htay Kywe, a farmer in Rangoon’s Tutay Township, pointed out that farmers cannot solve poverty and debt problems they face alone. The Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank (MADB) has given out agricultural loans, but they will only make a better living if basic prices for rice can be set, he said.

“We can’t use the MADB loans for agricultural expenses as we have to use them to pay other bills,” said Htay Kywe. “Almost every farmer is not in good shape now. China doesn’t buy rice from our country because we use too much fertilizer. Since the demand is less and supply is high, a basic price must be set. Otherwise, it won’t turn out as expected.”

Dr Soe Htun, the chairman of the Myanmar Farmers Association (MFA), however, said the government needs to provide farmers with long-term loans with low interest rates in order to alleviate poverty.

He also suggested that the draft law should include provisions for implementing a crop insurance system and farmers’ welfare.

According to Myint Lwin, it is very important for the government to cooperate with civil society organizations in poverty alleviation as it cannot get good results alone.

“The government can’t do everything,” said the lawyer. “To tackle this problem, it needs to know the real situation on the ground. To do so, it should cooperate with non-governmental organizations based inside and outside the country.”