Work-shy Myanmar buffaloes add to farmers' woes

By Aung Hla Tun

DEDAYE, Myanmar (Reuters) - With a planting deadlinelooming, rice farmers in cyclone-hit parts of Myanmar'sIrrawaddy delta have hit a problem -- donated oxen and waterbuffaloes are refusing to work because they are stressed.

"Thanks to donors and arrangements by the government, weare getting buffaloes and oxen, and in some cases smalltractors and tillers, almost free of charge," said Ko Hla Soe,a farmer in Dedaye, 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Yangon.

"Now, to our surprise, the problem is that most of thebuffaloes and oxen will not work hard. They cannot immediatelybe used effectively," he told Reuters.

As well as leaving 134,000 people dead or missing when itripped into the delta on May 2, Cyclone Nargis killed around200,000 farm animals, 120,000 of which were used by farmers toplough fields in the former Burma's "rice bowl".

The military government and U.N. Food and AgricultureOrganization (FAO) has identified replacing these draughtanimals as a priority to allow farmers in the devastated areasto start growing their own food again.

The task has not proved as simple as it sounds.

The few animals that survived the storm are understandablytraumatised and reluctant to work, farmers say, and thosebrought in as replacements are taking a long time to settle into their new surroundings.

"Animals can get stress too," Ohn Kyaw, a senior officialat the Ministry of Livestock Breeding and Fisheries, toldReuters.

"The change of owners and environment is having apsychological impact on them. They've had to travel for days bysea or by land and they are bound to suffer from stress," hesaid, although he added that they should get over it.

The government had donated 1,971 draught animals as of June22, and was working on distributing another 600 donated by theFAO as soon as possible, he said.

FAO expert Albert Lieberg said getting enough replacementsinto the delta was a major logistical operation, especiallysince working pairs of buffaloes need to be kept together.

"You have to make sure that these two animals stay togetherup to the very end," he told a news conference in Bangkok lastweek. "It is a lot of psychological stress for the animals."

Unfortunately for the farmers, who prefer buffaloes tomechanical tillers due to a lack of fuel, time is not on theirside.

"Unless our rice is planted by the end of this month, itwill be too late," Ko Hla Soe said. "And even if we get it inon time, we cannot expect as big a crop as before."

(Editing by Ed Cropley and Sanjeev Miglani)