Gov’t Set to Ban Leasing of Land to Foreign Melon Growers

By Htet Khaung Lin 23 May 2019

YANGON—The Union government will prohibit landowners from leasing out lands for melon cultivation to foreign individuals or groups as of the next growing season, according to Sagaing Region Minister for Agriculture Kam Za Mon.

The Union government is preparing the regulation, which will be effective nationwide, the minister said, adding that the regional government has not yet received detailed instructions.

The move is targeted mainly at Chinese nationals, of whom there are large numbers engaged in large-scale melon cultivation in many parts of the country.

“As far as I know, this plan will be implemented across the country, and it is still being drawn up. As we are a regional government, we have to wait for instructions from the Union level,” the minister said.

The plan follows allegations of bribery and corruption in which a village administrator in Sagaing Region’s Kanbalu Township gave a license to Chinese nationals to grow melons on 200 acres of alluvial land in the township in exchange for money, which he appropriated.

Dr. Kyaw Thu Han Tun, a regional lawmaker representing Kanbalu Township, raised a question about the leasing of land for melon growing in the regional parliament on May 13. Minister Kam Za Mon replied that the Sagaing government would impose regulations ahead of the next cultivation season.

Dr. Kyaw Thu Han Tun claimed that Chinese nationals have been skirting the law by renting land through Myanmar citizens. The lawmaker said Chinese nationals may have rented as much as 500 acres of land in this way.

The Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law bars foreigners from cultivating such lands.

“They acquire lands by skirting the rules. As the alleged actions took place in my constituency, I conducted an investigation. The case was genuine, so action was taken against the village administrator and concerned persons. But no action was taken against the growers. The government promised to regulate [the activity] only after I raised a question about it during the parliamentary session earlier this month,” he said.

It has been around two decades since Chinese melon-growers first started growing watermelon and muskmelon in Myanmar, according the Myanmar Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Producer and Exporter Association.

Leasing land to Chinese growers risks soil degradation due to their excessive use of chemical fertilizers, said U Kyaw Thu, the secretary of the association.

“It was found that after they grew on a particular land plot for three consecutive years, nothing can be grown on it for the next six years. The plastic and trash they leave behind degrades the soil. It takes time just to clear up the trash they leave behind,” he said.

“On the other hand, there is a benefit. As China is the only market for our fruit, [their farming here] means we continue to have a market,” he said.

In addition to Magwe, Chinese melon-growers are also present in Bago, Mandalay, Sagaing, northern Shan State and some parts of Kachin State.

Besides watermelons and muskmelons, Chinese growers plant bananas in Kachin State and northern Shan State.

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