Sagaing Gov’t Cracking Down on Illegal Farm Workers and Pesticides, Minister Says

By Zarni Mann 3 October 2018

MANDALAY—At least 38 foreigners working illegally on fruit farms in Sagaing were deported in fiscal 2017-18, the divisional minister of agriculture, livestock and irrigation said on Wednesday.

The minister made the comment while answering questions during a session of the regional parliament in Monywa regarding the issue of foreigners working illegally on watermelon and melon plantations, and about the use of illegally imported pesticides and fertilizer.

“In fiscal 2017-18 there were at least 38 foreigners, most of them Chinese, who did not have valid visas, or did not have [appropriate visas for employment] and were deported. One was sued under the Immigration Law,” minister U Kam Zamohn told The Irrawaddy.

The minister added that two agricultural companies operating in Sagaing Division were also sued under the Agriculture Law for using pesticides and fertilizer imported illegally from China. He did not disclose the names of the companies.

“The pesticides and fertilizer used on those plantations are not officially recognized by the ministry. In some cases, they over-used the fertilizers. We seized them and sued the companies under the Agriculture Law in order to protect consumers and farmers,” U Kam Zamohn said.

Sagaing Division has more than 31,000 acres of watermelon and melon plantations. The fruit is mainly exported to China.

According to U Aung Kyaw, a local lawmaker who raised the issue of illegal foreign workers on Sagaing plantations, about a dozen foreign companies working in the region have brought workers from China illegally. They were also responsible for overusing the unrecognized pesticides and fertilizers, and the practice had affected the health of local farmers, he said.

The lawmaker urged authorities to take legal action against illegal foreign workers and to stop the use of illegal pesticides and fertilizers.

The minister explained that the regional government and the Immigration Department were handling the issue, adding that the Immigration Department did regular checks on foreigners working in the region.

“Our ministry is also doing regular checks and has issued warnings to sellers of agricultural supplies not to sell illegal pesticides and fertilizers,” the minister added.

Sagaing is Myanmar’s main region for growing watermelons and melons. Most of the produce grown in the region is exported to China via the Mandalay-Muse-Ruli inland border trade route.

In the past, melon plantations were worked by local farmers. As the export of melons to China has increased in the past five years, foreign agricultural companies, especially from China, have set up joint ventures with local farmers, offering them financial and technical support, and providing pesticides and fertilizers.