The feeling of the winter season in Shan State is fresh and cool while the clear sky makes it possible to see the well depicted painting-like plowed red soil from the farm lands. Kalaw is one of the cities in Southern Shan State which is famous for its tourism attraction and agriculture produces.
Most of the Southern Shan State towns, which mainly rely on tourism and agriculture, have been affected severely by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the 1st February coup 2021.
Almost all of the local travel and tour companies whose businesses are depending on one of the world famous tourist attraction sites, Kalaw and Inlay Lake, ceased their operation since the spread of Covid-19 pandemic. The coup made it harder to resume the travel and tour businesses.
“Some local travelers visited Kalaw and Inlay Lake recently. However, if we look at the whole picture of the tourism businesses, it is not the amount people that would sustain the business in the long run. Among them, almost none is foreign travelers,” Ko Zaw, a Nyaung Shwe based travel and tour service provider, told SHAN.
According to U Bhone Kyaw, a member of the Shan State Hotel and Tourism Association, there are about 600 hotel rooms available; plus, a number of private houses and religious buildings where they are used to accommodate the visitors. Additionally, there are thousands of youth and women who are relying on the tourism business, such as those who are producing and selling locally made products, hand-crafted and gift products, and other tourism related products.
“Millions of people are one way or the other related to this business (tourism) sector in Southern Shan State. Youth and women have been earning a living out of this sector, and almost all of them are out of business nowadays,” U Bhone Kyaw quoted.
Along with the declining situation in the tourism business sector, the agricultural sector is another business which is severely affected. Thus, the locals who depend on this sector is having a nightmare especially after the military coup.
“This year the price of diesel oil is increasing three folds. The price of the fertilizer is also going up three folds. However, the price of the crops is not increasing proportionally, only a slight increase. It is very hard to decide if we should continue growing the crops, and if we decide not to, then what are we going to eat?,” a He Ho native farmer told SHAN.
Ko Kyaw Swar Aung, who sells agricultural materials for farmers based in Aung Pan, said that the price of the diesel oil was 500 Kyat per liter before the coup, and it is now over 1,700 Kyat per liter. Similarly, the overall price of a bag of fertilizer was around 25,000 Kyat and it is now about 80,000 Kyat per bag.
“Even though the selling price of our products has increased, we do not profit more from that. Farmers were hit severely by Covid-19 and some of them could not pay for the materials they bought yet. After that, the military coup caused the price of the materials to go up again while there is no market for the crops that farmers harvested. So, farmers were badly impacted and so did to us because we cannot collect the outstanding debt from the farmers,” Ko Kyaw Swar explained the situation he is facing.
He also added that farmers bought the fertilizers and pesticide they need on credit, and usually it is paid back after the crops are harvested and sold. Likewise, companies provided him the products on credit. If the farmers could not pay their debt, it is affected the whole chain.
According to U Soe Moe Kyaw, a trader who is based in Aung Pan, due to the market instability, farmers decreased their productivity this winter season, and many of them are having financial difficulties to invest in the following growing season which will lead to decreasing in the produces later this year.
“Covid and coup have led farmers into poverty. In the past, even though market was unstable, the vegetables and fruits could still be sold to visitors and travelers; therefore, the damage was not that severe. The export crops such as peas, corn and sesame is the most affected crops,” U Soe Moe Kyaw quoted his explanation to SHAN.
According to U Soe Moe Kyaw analysis, about 372,562 acres of land is used to produce consumer vegetable such as cabbage, tomato, various kind of mustards, potato, ginger, various kind of peas, and flowers; however, only about half of that land area maybe used to grow those crops the following season because of the current situation.
As a consequence, the youth and women who are relying on this agriculture business sector are unemployed, and they are often ended up in gambling and illegal drugs consuming.
“We trade with all villages around here, and we heard all the stories. Gambling is allowed to operate in the villages. The villages where methamphetamine was never seen and known of before are now easily sold and consumed. Some sold their farm lands. Some agents also came to persuade locals to go and work in Thailand for a lump sum fees,” added by U Soe Moe Kyaw.
An Aung Pan native Ko Zaw Zaw said that the methamphetamines are only available in the city in the past, but it is widely available in the village now. Because of those illegal drugs and gambling, local crimes rate has increased, i.e motorcycle thief, burglary, etc., and people do not know where to report those crimes because of the political instability.
“2D, 3D lottery and other gambling house are operated as if they are allowed legally. The illegal drugs dealers have significantly increased. Motorcycle is stolen every day that it is normal now. Even though people would like to report this to the police, they choose not to because of the complicated procedures, and people understand that they will not get back their stolen asset,” Ko Zaw Zaw whose motorcycle got stolen told SHAN.
According to one Aung Pan resident, many young people have been put behind bars, and the military junta is still making the arrest in Southern Shan State because of the current political conflict.
“In some villages, the military junta is still arresting young people. Some got released after paying some amount money. Over a thousand of young people in the whole Southern Shan State are currently behind bars. Many are still on the run,” the above Aung Pan resident told SHAN.
The residents are eagerly but weary expecting to overcome such a nightmare where they are experiencing the consequences of the coup – economic crisis, drugs abuses, gamblings, and other kind corruptions which are happening in their day to day lives.