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Cablegate: Burma: Challenges to Planting Rice in the Delta Remain

VZCZCXRO3124
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0585/01 2040947
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 220947Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7946
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1946
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1371
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4929
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4893
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8459
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 6021
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1523
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1718
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0374
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3914
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1876
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 RANGOON 000585

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, EEB/TPP/ABT/ATP - JANET SPECK
USDA FOR OSEC AND APHIS
USDA FOR FAS/DLP/HWETZEL AND FAS/ICD/LAIDIG
BANGKOK FOR USDA/FAS, ECON OFFICE, USAID
DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USAID - CHERYL JENNINGS
PACOM FOR FPA
TREASURY FOR OASIA:SCHUN

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: EAGR EAID ETRD ECON PGOV PREL BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: CHALLENGES TO PLANTING RICE IN THE DELTA REMAIN

REF: A) Rangoon 579 B) Rangoon 371 C) Rangoon 331

RANGOON 00000585 001.2 OF 004


1. (SBU) Summary. Cyclone Nargis, with its up to 12-foot high
waves, not only destroyed much of the rice farmland in the Irrawaddy
Delta, but also washed away farm implements, including seeds, draft
animals, and plows. Farmers in the delta have received some
assistance from the Burmese Government, UN agencies, and NGOs,
primarily in the form of seeds, power tillers, and water buffalo.
During a July 8-12 trip to the delta, we observed that while some
farmers had begun to plow their land and plant rice, not all of the
land will be planted by August 1, the recommended date for planting
monsoon crop. Farmers highlighted several challenges inhibiting
their ability to plant rice: lack of diesel for the power tillers;
insufficient numbers of draft cattle; weak or sick cattle;
inadequate seed stocks; and lack of salt-resistant rice seeds. End
Summary.

2. (U) Between July 8-12, a USAID/OFDA officer, USAID/RDMA Health
officer, Econoff, Poloff, and local staff member traveled to Labutta
and Ngapudaw Townships in the Irrawaddy Delta. The team visited ten
villages - Ye Wei, Zin Ywe Kyi, Sin Chay Yar, Ka Pyo, Gant Eik, Yin
Dee Lay, and Sa Kyin in Labutta Township and Thaketa, Gwe Chaung,
Kan Seik in Ngapudaw Township (Ref A).

View from the Rice Bowl
-----------------------

3. (SBU) Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma May 2-3, destroyed much
of the farm land in the Irrawaddy Delta, Burma's largest rice
producing area. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization
(FAO), the storm flooded more than one million acres of rice farm
land in seven townships in Irrawaddy Division, affecting more than
one million farmers and day laborers (Ref B). In addition to the
loss of usable farm land, farmers also lost farm implements,
including more than 250,000 water buffalo and draft cattle, 100,000
plows, and seed stocks. In the July 10 UN Revised Flash Appeal, the
FAO requested more than $40 million to rehabilitate affected rice
farms. The FAO and Burmese Ministry of Agriculture recommended that
the latest farmers should plant monsoon crop is August 1, leaving
little time to rehabilitate farms and provide farmers with necessary
tools.

4. (SBU) During our trip to the delta, we observed thousands of
acres of rice paddy in various stages of cultivation. In the
northern part of Irrawaddy Division, farmers already plowed their
fields and were systematically planting seeds. As we approached the
storm-affected areas, we saw many rice paddies overrun with grass
and weeds, collapsed paddy embankments, few water buffalo and draft
cattle in the fields, and substantially fewer farmers planting rice
than in previous seasons. Many of the rice paddies appeared
unusable in the short-term; farmers were using machetes to cut down
weeds before they could even start plowing.

5. (SBU) Despite the appearance of the rice fields, village
leaders told us that many of the farmers, unlike the fishermen, were
able to return to the fields to resume their livelihoods after the
cyclone. Recent monsoon rains had washed away some of the salt
water intrusion, making the soil more suitable for rice growing,
they noted. Almost all of the village leaders reported that farmers
would be able to cultivate all of the fields, provided they had the
necessary seeds and implements. Most villages predicted they would
plant seeds by August 1. Privately, however, they admitted it would
be a challenge to plant all fields, with most villagers estimating
they could plant between 50-75 percent of available land. Villagers

RANGOON 00000585 002.2 OF 004


in Kan Seik, the most vulnerable village we visited, admitted that
they would be unable to plant all 2,000 acres of farmland in the
village due to lack of seeds and water buffalo for plowing. At
best, the farmers could plant 400 acres, although they acknowledged
that they could realistically plant only 50 acres of rice.

Assistance Provided
-------------------

6. (SBU) All of the farmers we spoke with indicated that they had
received some livelihood assistance, usually in the form of seeds
and farming equipment. Their accounts demonstrated that
distribution of assistance varied greatly by village (see chart
below). Larger villages, particularly those with trade links, such
as Gant Eik, Sa Kyin, or Thaketa, received more assistance from a
wider variety of sources. Leaders in these villages told us that
frequent trips to Labutta or Ngapudaw yielded more assistance.
Thus, the smaller, poorer villages or those located far from a major
town received less aid because they were unable to make the right
connections, they commented.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Farming Implement Donations
As of July 12, 2008
--------------------------------------------- --------
Village Donated Goods Donor
--------------------------------------------- --------
Ye Wei Rice Seeds MinAg

Zin Ywe Kyi Rice Seeds Private Dutch
Company
8 Water Buffalo Min. Livestock
1,000 bottles Diesel Min. Energy

Yin Dee Lay 100 Baskets seeds MinAg

Sa Kyin 400 baskets seeds IDE
30 Water Buffalo Min. Livestock
20 Tractors MinAg

Gant Eik 2,000 baskets seeds MinAg
6,000 bottles diesel Min. Energy

Gwe Chaung 1,500 baskets seeds MinAg
17 tractors MinAg

Kan Seik 1 tractor MinAg
4 Water Buffalo Min. Livestock
30 gallons diesel Min. Energy
200 baskets seeds MinAg

Thaketa 30 tractors MinAg
11 tractors Private company
1,500 baskets seeds MinAg
2,000 gallons diesel Min. Energy

Sin Chay Yar 50 baskets seeds MinAg

Ka Pyo 6 Water Buffalo Min. Livestock
4 tractors MinAg
172 baskets seeds MinAg
--------------------------------------------- --------

7. (SBU) According to village leaders, the majority of farming

RANGOON 00000585 003.2 OF 004


assistance came from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and
the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries (using funding from the
FAO). Only a few villages obtained diesel donations from the
Ministry of Energy. Farmers in Labutta told us that each farmer
must travel to the local Ministry of Energy office (located in
Labutta, Ngapudaw, or Pathein) to petition for diesel; the Ministry
of Energy would provide each farmer with three gallons per acre.
Most farmers understood that fuel provisions were donations,
although several people informed us that the Ministry of Energy may
demand payment after the monsoon harvest.

Challenges to Planting
----------------------

8. (SBU) While the farmers and village leaders welcomed the
donations of seeds and farming implements, almost all of them
expressed concern that it was not enough (Ref A). Village leaders
lamented that the farmers did not have enough seeds, the seeds were
not salt resistant, or the GOB had provided non-germinating seeds.
Farmers in Gwe Chaung village complained that the Ministry of
Agriculture only provided 1,500 baskets of seeds; however, they
needed 3,400 baskets to plant 1,700 acres. Instead of buying seeds,
the village elder planned to petition the Ministry to donate more
salt-resistant seeds. Farmers in Kan Seik did not fare as well.
They received 200 baskets of seeds, none of which had germinated,
for 2,000 acres. Land-holding farmers planned to buy seeds from
nearby village Chaung Wa, where seeds were available for 7,000 kyat
($6.36) per basket. However, due to lack of cash, farmers had yet
to buy seeds and instead were trying their luck by
broadcast-planting the non-germinating seeds.

9. (SBU) Farmers also lamented the lack of draft animals to plow
the fields: Gant Eik village lost more than 200 buffalo and 6
tractors in the storm while Gwe Chaung village lost more than 1,000
buffalo and 20 tractors. According to the Livestock Breeding
Veterinary Department (LBVD) Deputy Director Dr. Than Htun, the
Ministry of Livestock distributed more than 2,200 water buffalo and
draft cattle to the delta and FAO distributed 600 water buffalo,
replacing 1.2 percent of lost animals. Unfortunately, 105 cattle
and water buffalo died in transit to the delta and 253 caught foot
and mouth disease, Dr. Than Htun noted. Farmers also complained
that some of the donated cattle were too young or too old to work
the fields or did not understand the local language and thus were
unusable.

10. (SBU) While the Ministry of Agriculture donated an estimated
5,700 power tillers to farmers as compensation for lost cattle, many
of the farmers told us that they either did not know how to use them
or they lacked diesel to power them. As diesel costs in the delta
rise (currently between 6,000-6,500 kyat ($5.45-5.90) a gallon),
farmers will be unable to procure the necessary fuel, village
leaders noted. Even wealthier villages, such as Thaketa, where
farmers could afford diesel, they preferred to wait because they
believed that the GOB would donate the fuel. Farmers would rather
spend money to feed their families, village leaders told us.

Comment
-------

11. (SBU) Despite Burmese regime claims that delta farmers have
successfully returned to the fields to plant the monsoon crop, we
saw evidence that the yield will likely be significantly lower than
normal. Many farmers lack the necessary implements to properly
cultivate their land and the funds to purchase them. An infusion of

RANGOON 00000585 004.2 OF 004


cash into the hands of farmers could help them purchase diesel, farm
implements, and germinating seeds. The August 1 planting deadline
draws near, so farmers have a dwindling amount of time to purchase
implements and cultivate the land. We will travel again to the
delta to monitor the rice crop in late August, which should provide
a better picture of actual cultivation.

VILLAROSA

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