The US had committed to spending US$38 million over five years on Burma’s agriculture sector and the development of a food processing system in Kachin and Shan states and the country’s central regions, American officials announced this week.
On November 14, officials from the US embassy in Burma held a public meeting at the Cartel Hotel in Myitkyina, Kachin State, attended by some 60 Kachin farmers. Also present at the meeting was US Ambassador to Burma Scot Marciel, on his fifth trip to Kachin State.
“Before we kick off the project, we will study what kind of crops are suitable to plant in this soil. We will make ground observations before we start the project. We are going to manage the growing of crops suitable for the soil in Kachin State,” Matt Curtis, an official with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), told KNG.
The project will be the first agriculture initiative run by USAID in Burma, and its biggest investment in economic growth. It aims to reach 125,000 people and will be implemented by USAID staff, farmers in Kachin State and government departments.
The US government said that their expectation is that farmers will increase their income by up to 50 percent by selling agricultural products and that some $20 million will be invested in the private sector. They estimate that some 3,500 jobs will be created. The project also offers loans to farmers.
Not all locals KNG spoke to were enthusiastic about the project. A farmer from Kachin State’s Mohnyin Township explained that he was concerned that the investment in creating more agricultural output would not necessarily lead to a better quality of life.
“For us, we don’t need assistance money. We need buyers who will sign an agreement to buy our agricultural products. Currently we farmers don’t have this kind of guarantee. So if they don’t buy our products, where should we go to sell them?” he said.
Matt Curtis said that funds would also be provided to Kachin internally displaced people (IDPs) to start up small businesses to sell their crops.
There are more than 100,000 IDPs in Kachin State who are at risk of having their farmland confiscated by both the Burma Army and private companies while they survive in makeshift camps, unable to return home due to the ongoing civil war.
With armed conflict still ongoing, and with up to 80 percent of IDPs living outside of government-controlled areas, it remains unclear how they would participate in the agricultural initiative.
Farmers’ networks, Kachin political parties, and communities following customary land management practices have repeatedly highlighted Burma’s land laws as a major challenge to agriculture, as the statutes make them vulnerable to land grabs connected to development and militarization.