Myanmar floods six months on: agricultural livelihoods still buried in the mud

Myanmar floods six months on: agricultural livelihoods still buried in the mud

05/02/2016

During the winter months, the farmland around Pauk Khoan village is normally full of brightly coloured vegetable crops – sunflower, peanut, red bean, mustard broadleaf and maize. But this year is different. Thick, wet mud still covers most of the land, nearly six months after floodwaters swept through the area. Farmers have watched in dismay as their winter crops struggled to grow, turned yellow and wilted in the mud.

Everything was lost in the floods

It’s yet another blow for the 150 families in the village, who were counting on the winter harvest for much-needed food and income. It shows that while the initial flooding disaster was almost half a year ago, it triggered a series of devastating consequences which continue to undermine agricultural livelihoods and food security today.

Pauk Khoan is a village in Sagaing region in central Myanmar, more than 600km north of Yangon. It was the worst affected of the six states and regions that bore the brunt of the floods between July and October last year. Most farmers lost their entire staple crop of monsoon paddy rice, which was growing when the floods swept through. Daily labour – a traditional source of extra income – is no longer available. Families have resorted to selling livestock to buy food or pay for medical treatment.

Despite all the hardship, the worst may still be ahead. The floods also buried the village’s irrigation canals and feeder rivers under mud. Without irrigation, the village could miss out on a second consecutive paddy rice crop.

Mya Kyi, 52, lives with her three sisters, her brother and sister-in-law. She has still not been able to pay the more than 25 villagers who worked as daily labourers on her two hectares of monsoon paddy rice last year. Now she fears there will be no paddy crop this year, either. “There is no water for any paddy land now, so even if there is rain, it won’t be enough for the monsoon crop,” she said. “Our winter vegetable crop is not looking good and I have no idea how we will survive the next monsoon season.”

In another major obstacle, much of the village’s total 91 hectares of paddy land was left littered with heavy logs and branches after the floods. The Government sent machinery to help clear some of the debris and villagers have been chopping the rest up by hand. Months later, they’re still not finished. 

Community leader Kyi Baw — worried about his own wife, five children and newly born grandchild — said people will have to sell more livestock and other assets or try to borrow food, when the donated rice runs out in the coming weeks. “There hasn’t been much improvement in our situation since the floods. The disaster destroyed my land and my possessions,” he said. “But everyone is in the same situation because there are no jobs and no income.”

“Most people have already sold livestock to cope, but if they sold before the floods they would have received three lakhs for a pig (around USD 230), now they might only get around half that.”

FAO will reach vulnerable Sagaing farmers in the coming months with rice and vegetable seeds, fertilizer, chickens, pigs and ducks, thanks to the support of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), through its Central Emergency Response Fund. However, more international support is urgently needed.

FAO Representative in Myanmar, Ms Bui Thi Lan, said while vulnerable farmers continued to face major hurdles in rebuilding their livelihoods after the floods, FAO’s support can help families get back on their feet. “These communities are resourceful and with our help they will face a shorter recovery period and can rebuild resilient agricultural livelihoods more quickly,” Ms Lan said.

“For example, a small animal can contribute to a family’s nutrition, or help them generate income through the sale of eggs and other products. Families can also breed these animals and then trade them to purchase seeds or pay for household costs such as education or medical care.”

To urgently expand its operations, FAO has appealed for USD 12 million under the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan to support more than 300 000 vulnerable farmers. FAO is working with partners in the Food Security Sector to restore livelihoods and enhance the resilience of affected communities through the provision of agricultural inputs, livestock assistance and sustainable income support.