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Military force cashew farmers to neglect land

Apr 10, 2009 (DVB), Restrictions in movement imposed by the Burmese military on Mon villagers in Tenasserim division are forcing local cashew growers to neglect their farmland and incur a substantial loss in harvest, a report found.

Due to increased activity in the area by Mon armed rebel group Nai Chan Dein, the Burmese military is limiting residential movement in the area, said a report by the Human rights Foundation of Monland.

Nai Chan Dein was formed after members of the New Mon State Party split after it agreed to a ceasefire with the ruling State Peace and Development Council in 1995.

The move is an attempt by the military to thwart communication between villagers and rebels.

"The Burmese military has often prevented us from leaving the village, so we cannot take care of our farms very well," said one farmer from Yapu village, Yebyu township.

Cashew growers are also suffering considerable financial strain after trees produced less than 50 per cent of last year’s crop, said the report.

"Last year we could pick 200 viss [2.7 kilos] of mature nuts in a day, but this year we can only pick 80 (1.1 kilos)," said one cashew grower from Yapu village, Yebyu Township.

Harvest production has also been affected by a thick winter frost that has settled over the crops, a possible effect of climate change, said the report.

Growers’ financial difficulties are compounded by the drop in cashew prices this year. While cashews may have fetched 1500 kyat (US$1.45) per viss in the last season, they currently fetch a price ranging from 500 kyat (45¢) to 800 kyat (78¢) per viss.

Loss in income revenue has forced growers to hire fewer workers compared to previous years. To make up for losses in both manpower and profit, growers have resorted to other means.

"We can't hire the workers so we're doing the work ourselves," said one grower from Kyauk Kadin village.

"Because there are less people we sometimes can't collect all the mature nuts in a day and so they are left for people to steal." Those who rely on the plantations for work have also felt the damaging effects, the report said.

Difficulties in finding alternative sources of income have pushed some into criminal activity, stealing to provide for themselves and their dependents. Others have migrated to Thailand.

Reporting by Beth Macdonald


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