13 Jan 20 - Source: Myanmar Times - Myanmar's rice growers are increasingly concerned about the amount of water in the country available for the irrigation of their crops, industry insiders say.

And their worries are not exactly without foundation.

U Myo Tint Tun, assistant secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation recently said: "A reduction in water available for crop irrigation is likely. Right now, the rainfall the country receives has been lower than in previous rainy seasons. Water flowing into the county's dams has been fluctuating over the recent years and the amount cannot be estimated accurately. What is definitely known is that the country has to be more effective in saving water."

Rice is one of Myanmar's major exports, and if shortages of irrigation water occur it would negatively impact a revenue source for the country.

U Myo Tint Tun, says building more dams will not help the situation as there are already enough and that the problem is solely due to the climate.

Being an agricultural country, irrigation water is a critical issue for Myanmar, he added.

"Being an agricultural country, it is very important to have sufficient irrigation water. As rice is a major crop, Myanmar needs more water. The crop grows with rain water during the rainy season but in dry areas, irrigation water has to be supplied. If that insufficiency of irrigated water persists, it will be a great challenge for the agriculture sector," said U Myo Tint Tun.

To address the situation, the Agricultural Development Strategy was drafted about two years ago under the present government and it features solutions to uncommon weather conditions, he said.

Myanmar's 15 states and regions have different weather patterns, geographical features and water resources so approaches to deal with these are not the same, said U Myo Tint Tun.

"We are urging farmers to follow certain practices. Among them are for areas that don't receive enough irrigation water to make sure of the timing of water distribution from dams, choosing crops to avoid water wastage and negotiating to ensure planting schedules are as close as possible," said U Khin Maung Nyunt, director of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation's Department of Agricultural Education.

Tha Phan Seik Dam, which is one of Myanmar's largest, normally supplies water for some 202,000 hectares of summer rice every year.

The dam has not experienced a water shortage since 1996. However, this year, U Khin Maung Nyunt, says it will not be able to provide its usual amount of water.

To deal with the situation, the ministry is suggesting that farmers in areas expected to receive less irrigation water cultivate short-lived beans species in areas where moisture still remain, opting for beans and pulses, oil crops and vegetables that require less water to replace rice. Other options are furrowing land to grow early monsoon sesame, green gram, and cotton as soon as the monsson rains begin.

If farmers need technical assistance and other support, they are to report to respective departments in time, the government has announced via state-owned media channels.

"In previous years, there was usually more rain in parts of southern Myanmar but less in the north so, water-reservoir requirements in the north were unnecessary," said Department of Meteorology and Hydrology Director General U Kyaw Moe Oo.

In July and August 2019, Mon State, Kayin State, Tanintharyi Region and East of Bago Region received adequate rain, he said.

Myanmar has experienced floods and draughts in some places for nearly every year in the past decade and there will be climate change in future as well, he added. Although forest fires because of hot weather are not common in Myanmar, the country is among the highest in fire incidents, he said.

The farmers should also observe climate change and weather reports, he said. They need to change their traditional farming methods, seeds and techniques to cope with the climate while listening to agricultural experts, he said.

If the farmers aren't notified for this year's inadequate dam water distribution, agricultural losses of millions of kyat might occur, said the farmers.

For areas not having enough water for crops, underground water is being used and the government is building wells for drinking water, said U Myo Tint Tun. – Translated