No New Irrigation Dams During Govt’s Term

By Htet Naing Zaw 13 July 2016

NAYPYIDAW — No new irrigation dams will be built during the tenure of the current government, and spending on existing facilities will be halved, says Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Tun Win.

Burma now has more than 100 irrigation dams, and the ministry has questioned the benefits they provide to agricultural production and farmer’s welfare. It announced on Friday that it would also dismantle about 200 river-water pumping stations.

“A large sum of money has been spent on building [irrigation] dams since 1988, but a look at whether they have really benefitted farmers, or whether paddy yields have increased, reveals that the cultivation of rice paddy through irrigation, as before, still makes up only 10 per cent of total cultivation,” said the deputy minister.

“The remaining 90 per cent has to depend on unpredictable rainfall. It has become clear that building [irrigation] dams contributes nothing to national development,” he added.

Rice exports to China, which reached 1.5 million tons in 1992 when there were not many dams in the country, stood at around the same amount in 2015, the deputy minister pointed out.

The government has decided to halve maintenance spending for dams down from 24 billion kyats (US$20.3 million) for the 2016-17 fiscal year because only 2 million acres of irrigated farmland are in use, while the acreage of monsoon paddy is as high as 15 million acres.

Additionally, farmland has previously been supplied with irrigated water only during the hot season (March to May). In some instances, water has been stored in dams just for the benefit of officials conducting inspections.

“Water was stored in dams for hot season use and for official visits, although farmers needed the water also for paddy during the rainy season [June to September]. It is unacceptable that water was stored in dams just for official inspections,” the deputy minister said.

He said that farmers dared not ask for water during the rainy season even though droughts sometimes occur at that time.

“We have instructed authorities to release water from dams whenever farmers need it. It is no long just ‘time’ for change. The change has already started,” he said, referencing the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) campaign slogan for the November 2015 general election.

“The cultivation of hybrid paddy strains will also be stopped because [the seeds] were imported from China at high prices, even though there is no international market for hybrid paddy and local consumers do not like it. Research will be conducted to produce seeds at home,” the deputy minister said.

Translated from Burmese by Myint Win Thein