Frustrated Farmers Give Melons Away as Border Checkpoint Remains Shut

By Myat Pyae Phyo 8 January 2019

MANDALAY—Melon growers gave away around 50 tons of watermelons in Sagaing Region’s Monywa on Monday in a protest against the closure of a key border checkpoint for fruit exports in the Muse border trade zone on the Myanmar-China border.

Melon and cantaloupe growers from Butalin Township organized the protest, one of its leaders, Ko Thitsar, told The Irrawaddy.

Local melon exporters have suffered serious losses as their produce has been left to spoil at the border since the Myanmar Army closed the Jin San Jiao Gate on the evening of Dec. 26 for security reasons. The timing couldn’t have been worse for the farmers, with seasonal demand for melons and cantaloupes now at peak level.

“We gave away our fruit to the public, as it would have gone off at the border anyway,” Ko Thitsar said.

Protesters have demanded the immediate re-opening of the gate and called on the government to help establish a system that allows melon and cantaloupe growers to sell their produce on the Myanmar side of the border.

Border traders are frustrated that the Commerce Ministry has not made an official statement about the gate closure.

“It is time we growers speak up. We submitted a letter [to authorities complaining about the closure] last month. But as there are two governments [the elected government and the military], we don’t know what will happen,” melon grower Ko Tun Win of Butalin Township told The Irrawaddy.

Some smaller fruit trucks have been using the Pansai gate, which Chinese authorities re-opened on Dec. 28. However, the 10-mile road from Muse to the gate is just 8 feet wide and not suitable for 12-wheeled trucks.

Previously, around 500 trucks ferrying watermelons and cantaloupes traded at the Jin San Jiao gate daily. But the number has declined to around 200 because of the traffic congestion along the route to Pansai, and because Chinese officials are taking longer to inspect Myanmar exports.

Most of the brokerages in Muse have stopped accepting fruit shipments due to the closure. However, growers are taking risks and still attempting to export their crops as it is now the harvest season.