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Years of corruption chafe Mon State rubber farmers

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Tawlawi : Rubber plantation owners in Mon State claim that instances of corruption and extortion perpetuated bye Burmese government’s Department of Forestry, and several military battalions stationed throughout the rubber producing area of Mon State, have risen dramatically between 2009 and 2010.

According to a plantation owner from Weakali village in Thanbyuzayat Township, plantation owners must pay their township division of the Department of Forestry for permission to cut down aging, unproductive trees. Additional funds are demanded by both the department and any military battalions in the area for permission to sell the harvested rubber timber.

“The rubber plants are old, and aged over 30 years. I want to cut them down because they lack [rubber] sap and I want to plant them again. We have to pay money to receive the permission for cutting the trees down. One acre is over 20,000 kyat, and we have to wait over a year to get permission after paying the money,” said a rubber plantation owner from Weakali village.

Via interviews with Mon State rubber plantation owners, IMNA learned that permission to sell rubber wood is only granted after a farmers’ plans are reported to their Township Forestry Department. Once permission is given, plantation owners must pay the Department 15,000 to 20,000 kyat per ton of rubber wood to be sold, depending on the quality of the wood to be sold.

All rubber tree plantations in Burma are considered to be part of a “national project” of the Burmese government; all oil palm plantations and cashew nut tree orchards fall into the same category. Since their plantations are legally owned by the state, rubber farmers must report plans for planting new saplings, and they are also required to report plans to cut down aging trees.

According to a officer from the Myanmar Agriculture Service (MAS), plantation owners must officially report agricultural plans to their township MAS departments, Land Records Departments, the Myanmar Permanent Pennuel Enterprise (MPPE), and their Township Peace and Development Council chairmen. Each party must grant individual permission before plantation owners can proceed with their agricultural plans; the process can take months, leaving plantation owners and their development plans on hold. The permission and fees demanded by the Department of Forestry and regional battalions technically occurs outside the normal legal process.

This MAS officer explained to IMNA that once permission to cut down trees has been granted, farmers must unofficially apply again for permission to sell the rubber wood and timber they have harvested, this time to both the Township Forestry Department and the Burmese army battalion controlling the area. Owners are permitted to sell the rubber tree trunks, but branches are claimed by the regional army battalion for brick-making, free of charge.

The Burmese government has claimed the nation’s rubber plantations as a “national project” even before Burma’s ruling party, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), became the State Peace and Development Council in 1997. Rubber plantation farmers interviewed by IMNA claim that the government has tolerated the corruption and extortion practiced by the Department of Forestry for nearly as long.

“Nobody has spoken out about this officially, even though we have been paying for these orders for a long time”, the Weakali plantation owner complained to IMNA.

A rubber trading enterprise in Mudon Township told IMNA that that one ton of unprocessed rubber wood earns 200,000 kyat, while wood that has been steamed and processed earns about 300, 000 kyat a ton.

According to the annual report released by the Burmese Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Mon State, Karen State and Tenasserim Division cultivate the highest amount of rubber plantations per capita; a total of 900,000 acres are cultivated throughout the entire area.

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