RANGOON — More than 1 million acres of paddy fields in Burma have been swamped during recent torrential rains and flooding across the country, Chit Khine, chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
With many regions of the country hit by severe floods since mid-July, vast stretches of paddy fields and other crops have been destroyed.
“Roughly, more than 1.3 million acres of paddy fields have been flooded, mainly in Kale, Kanbalu and Monywa in Sagaing division,” Chit Khine said.
On August 2, the MRF announced it would provide flood relief to inundated areas and work to prevent rice shortages. It also asked its member groups to halt rice exports until mid-September in order to meet local demand and mitigate a dramatic rise in rice prices in flood-hit areas.
In Burma, the annual paddy-harvest runs from around June-July until September-October. The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and related associations have begun providing paddy seeds for farmers who plan to replant crops before the end of the harvest season.
“In some areas, however, farmers are not able to replant paddy as farms have already been ruined,” Chit Khine said. “We’re providing paddy seeds for some areas which can be replanted when the water begins receding.”
According to MRF estimates, more than 700,000 acres of paddy fields can be replanted among the more than 1 million lost.
The MRF announced separately last week that farmers, millers and traders that have suffered due to the floods will be supported, with the federation pledging to provide seeds, fertilizer and equipment to those in need.
A senior official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation said related state and division departments had already been providing paddy seeds to farmers as well as equipment to aid replanting.
However, in Magwe Division’s Pwintbyu, a township where thousands of acres of paddy, sesame and beans were lost, at least one local expressed skepticism that farmers would be able to replant destroyed fields in the short term.
Replanting will not occur, said U Wayamainda, the abbot of Konezaung Village monastery in Pwintbyu Township, “as long as the irrigation department can’t help them to reconstruct small spillways destroyed by flooding.”
The abbot said most farmers were focused on rebuilding their homes.
The Ministry of Commerce and the MRF have been working to distribute rice in flood-hit areas at normal prices, but the risk of shortages remains.
“For the short term it’s ok but we will have to see long term,” Chit Khine told The Irrawaddy. “If we can’t provide adequate rice for local consumption after September, we asked the government to import rice from Thailand.”
With rice a major export product of Burma, the government may be reluctant to allow the importation of rice from regional competitors. However, the MRF believes authorities may allow imports from Thailand if the situation demands it.
“It would be a last resort situation. As long as we can still provide rice for local consumption, we won’t import rice,” he said, adding that the price of Thai rice exports was reasonable, at US$350-370 per ton.
Toe Aung Myint, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, told the state-run newspaper Myanma Ahlin on Monday that the government will control the price of rice and other crops in cooperation with local agencies.
“We will work for supply and demand to be balanced by controlling prices,” he was quoted as saying.
The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement announced in state-run media on Monday that 99 flood-related deaths had been recorded and over 1 million people affected across 12 states and divisions.