Drugs, Warlords, and Hybrid rice on the China-Burma Border
As someone who routinely complains about the fluffy crap in the international press on Asia, this article in Asia Times Online (written by Clifford McCoy, a freelancer after my own heart, it appears) is basically the most awesome piece of journalism I’ve seen in a long time. And it has everything: toxic conventional agriculture, international trade in food, opium and heroin, armed resistance, ties to Yunnan province, property rights disputes, and the UN World Food Program. Seriously, GO READ IT.
For those who are short on time, the article basically describes a process by which the Chinese government, ethnic Chinese living on both sides of the China-Myanmar border, and a Burmese-Chinese paramilitary that controls the Shan state are using an opium-crop substitution program to get rich, bankrupt ethnic minority farmers, and acquire huge tracts of land. Central to the problem is the fact that the Chinese-produced varieties of hybrid rice being distributed in the area require heavy pesticide and fertilizer inputs - driving farmers into debt - and absolutely no technical trainings are being provided, leaving farmers at a loss for how to deal with toxic chemicals and a new and fussy crop. In the meantime, governments, militaries, and traders are making huge profits off the sale of seeds and chemicals in the region. Further, it is likely that the emphasis on rice-crop in this area is largely export-oriented, since Myanmar is perennially short on foreign exchange.
The article touches on quite a few of the most critical issues in agriculture: ‘modern’ vs. ‘traditional’ varieties, small subsistance farms vs. large managed farms, illegal crops and their microeconomic effects, property rights, tenure security, and political stability… playing out in what is really a very bizarre and singular political-economic situation. I got so excited that I did a bunch of background research that I look forward to putting up on this site in the very near future… in the meantime, GO READ THAT ARTICLE! I’m considering writing a personal letter to Asia Times to thank them for bothering to cover something well.