Work-shy Myanmar buffaloes add to farmers’ woes
Mon 23 Jun 2008, 7:10 GMT
By Aung Hla Tun
DEDAYE, Myanmar (Reuters) – With a planting deadline looming, rice farmers in cyclone-hit parts of Myanmar’s Irrawaddy delta have hit a problem — donated oxen and water buffaloes are refusing to work because they are stressed.
“Thanks to donors and arrangements by the government, we are getting buffaloes and oxen, and in some cases small tractors and tillers, almost free of charge,” said Ko Hla Soe, a farmer in Dedaye, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Yangon.
“Now, to our surprise, the problem is that most of the buffaloes and oxen will not work hard. They cannot immediately be used effectively,” he told Reuters.
As well as leaving 134,000 people dead or missing when it ripped into the delta on May 2, Cyclone Nargis killed around 200,000 farm animals, 120,000 of which were used by farmers to plough fields in the former Burma’s “rice bowl”.
The military government and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has identified replacing these draught animals as a priority to allow farmers in the devastated areas to start growing their own food again.
The task has not proved as simple as it sounds.
The few animals that survived the storm are understandably traumatised and reluctant to work, farmers say, and those brought in as replacements are taking a long time to settle in to their new surroundings.
“Animals can get stress too,” Ohn Kyaw, a senior official at the Ministry of Livestock Breeding and Fisheries, told Reuters.
“The change of owners and environment is having a psychological impact on them. They’ve had to travel for days by sea or by land and they are bound to suffer from stress,” he said, although he added that they should get over it.
The government had donated 1,971 draught animals as of June 22, and was working on distributing another 600 donated by the FAO as soon as possible, he said.
FAO expert Albert Lieberg said getting enough replacements into the delta was a major logistical operation, especially since working pairs of buffaloes need to be kept together.
“You have to make sure that these two animals stay together up to the very end,” he told a news conference in Bangkok last week. “It is a lot of psychological stress for the animals.”
Unfortunately for the farmers, who prefer buffaloes to mechanical tillers due to a lack of fuel, time is not on their side.
“Unless our rice is planted by the end of this month, it will be too late,” Ko Hla Soe said. “And even if we get it in on time, we cannot expect as big a crop as before.”
(Editing by Ed Cropley and Sanjeev Miglani)