HLAING BWE: NOTES AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

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Hlaing Bwe is a typical township an hour away from the Kayin capital town of Hpa-an. The road to the township is asphalted and there is a continuing effort to widen the road to accommodate the increasing volume of vehicle traffic. Aside from cars, the road is shared with the increasing number of motorcycles, three-wheeled Chinese vehicles and transformed pick-up trucks that served as the public utility vehicles. There are also some small tractors pulling carts filled with bamboo and other materials for use in the farms and makeshift trucks strapped with engines that are not usually made for vehicles. The slow-moving carts and makeshift trucks sometimes clog the road and may annoy motorists, but they are a great help to the farmers and the rural entrepreneurs.

The township is an agricultural area and the road is lined with rubber plantations and rice fields. This is the place where we are to implement a project with components on cooperative formation to provide alternative financial access, and promote enterprise development by enhancing agricultural production of selected commodities and non-agricultural enterprises. We hope to work with the farmers in the township whose main agricultural products include rice, peanuts, sesame seeds, watermelon and vegetables.

Some parts of the township are irrigated with water from the Yae Bote Lake. It was nice to see a lake amidst the background of limestone rock formations, giving you a feeling you are in another place. Developing the lake for eco-tourism will definitely generate interest among the people. Undoubtedly, there are other places of interest in the town that are off the beaten track of tourists, and are worth visiting.

Despite the richness of the area, many youths are still lured by work opportunities in Thailand. They escape from backbreaking farm work in the villages to work for menial jobs across the border which just several hours away. Our project is envisioned to contribute to the improvement of farm productivity and the introduction of other enterprises to increase income and motivate people to stay and enjoy the resources offered by their native land.

Another challenge is the fact that Kayin is a post-conflict area and the peace situation is fragile, even if the main armed groups have negotiated peace with the government. Reading the newspapers, there were rumours of breakdown in peace efforts. There was also news of clashes in Myawady, the border town with Thailand. This limits tourists from visiting the township and enjoys its natural beauty. Hopefully a more lasting peace can be reached.

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