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Food security concerns mount as COVID-19 disruption leaves Myanmar farmers unable to plant

“Since COVID-19, there is no longer usual trading as crops simply don’t sell anymore,” said Ba Myint, a farmer in Taungup township in southern Rakhine State, where the primary crops are rice and beans.

The price of produce has crumbled, and at times there were no buyers even when the price was slashed by 75 percent, he told this newspaper.

Ba Myint’s plight underscores the struggles farmers across the nation are now facing. Travel restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have led to lower sales for farmers and resulted in significant losses for those who rely on loans. That has strangled their ability to plant this season, leading to a near collapse of Myanmar’s agricultural economy.

The planting of monsoon rice - accounting for 80pc of Myanmar’s paddy crop production - typically begins in late April with harvests in September and October.

But as government loans have paused and microfinancing institutions have suspended operations, many farmers have been unable to raise money to invest in this growing season.

Myanmar is now at risk of missing the entire season of production unless agricultural activities and access to finances resumes within the next two weeks. Worse, experts warn there could be a severe food shortage in six months if farmers are unable to start planting before the monsoon arrives.

This trend of reduced food production, transport constraints and price volatility could lead to disruptions in food supply chains, different forms of social breakdown and even fatalities, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Myanmar.

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