Once known as the ‘rice basket’ of Asia, Burma’s long-standing reputation as a leading rice exporter has dwindled as its economy has collapsed after years of rule by several generations of military juntas.
Within the country, the leading role of rice as a food product and commercial cash crop has persisted. Yet despite its significant role in Burmese agriculture, the rice paddy farmers of Mon state, who have long been the backbone of rice production in Burma, are finding it increasingly difficult to continue to provide for their own livelihoods and those of their families.
The threat to paddy farmers is twofold, due to both man-made catastrophes as well as natural disasters. Due to the poor design and management of the Win-pha-non and Kataik dams, farms and villages throughout the area have been flooded as spillways running from the damn have failed. Thanks to excess rainfall, farmers in the 6 divisions of Mon State have lost hundreds of acres of rice paddies due to flooding. However, in addition to the destruction of their cash crops, paddy farmers face further loss of income and property from the abusive economic management practices of the Burmese government’s State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) agricultural programs. Despite flooding, seasonal limitations, and lack of funding, government administrators demand that farmers replant their crops to meet government rice quotas. While they are provided with no economic support, farmers are still expected to meet the quota or face the seizure of their land, and in some cases, forced manual labor.