“I think climate change is one of the only things in this world that can bring together humanity, and we hope that people in Myanmar will be able to see this as well and act together,” said Beatrice Manole, co-producer of the documentary.
We live in a time of loss. Biodiversity dwindles, species go extinct and the most vulnerable remain on the frontline of human-induced climate crisis. As the 2020 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe, wriggling into a global health crisis —— which perhaps could help us get to grips with the biggest environmental crisis of the century, the climate change.
In contemplation of this, I talked to Tomas Derville and Beatrice Manole —— the producer and co-producer from the latest environmental documentary released last week in Myanmar —— Changes in the Fields which addressed how the lives of farmers in Myanmar are affected by climate change.
Changes in the Field takes a glimpse into the lives of farmers in Yangon, Shan State and Mon State, whose very existence and heritage is intertwined with their lands. Like many who farm in the country, their fortunes straddle with rising sea levels, salinization, deforestation. Faced with extreme weather and changing weather patterns, these farmers reflect on their past, present and gloomy future with a vision hopes to starve off the climate impact on agriculture.
Inspired by the scientific reports announcing Myanmar as one of the top three countries in the world hit greatly by extreme weather, Derville’s climate awakening to the crisis came after watching the documentary Before the Flood, a documentary features movie star Leonardo Dicaprio touring the world to witness the impact of global warming and calling for the world to cut emissions.
Since then, he created the Facebook page Climate Change Awareness Movement and hoped to raise the alarm of the issue.
For Manole, the questions she always asks herself are: How to make people more aware and more conscious about the importance of nature?
This simple question prompted her to delve into the social movements and people behind the social, economical challenges and environmental justice, which have also captured the reality of what Myanmar has been encountering throughout the years, striking by typhoons, storms, cyclones and heatwaves.
As an agricultural country, the agriculture sector is the backbone of its economy, contributing to 37.8 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and accounting for 25 to 30 percent of total export earnings and employing 70 percent of the labour force, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Despite being reliant on the agricultural sector, Myanmar is also a country considered by environmentalists as one of the top three countries in the world affected greatly by extreme weather during 1998 and 2018 on the Global Climate Risk Index, according to a study by environmental think tank Germanwatch.
“Agriculture is the most vulnerable sector that is affected greatly by climate change,” said Derville, producer of Changes in the Fields.
The Loss of Land and Ways of Life
Within some 70 kilometres away from downtown Yangon, Khayan township, were used to be part of a Mon royal family who escaped from their palace during wartimes —— had moved a whole village from one place to the other in the 90s, owing to rising sea levels.
“They used to grow [plants] in this area, but the former villagers said it’s really difficult and the productivity is extremely low. They’re impacted by sea-level rise and salinization, and having too much water,” Derville explained.
“One farmer lost twenty lakhs because the rains came two weeks after he had started planting. Basically, the monsoon is supposed to end, he started to plant, and two weeks after he had way too much water and it flooded the fields and he lost the entire crops.”
An agricultural worker in Myanmar earns only an average of 3,000 kyat ($2) per day during the monsoon season and 4,550 kyat ($3.3) during the dry season, according to a World Bank study in 2016.
“This is entirely due to climate issues. Because he lost money and labour to plant, he lost the seeds, and he has to postpone his next harvest because he has to plant again, so the time when he harvests is later —— which affects everything.”
Within 1 hour driving away from Yangon, Ta Dar U, a village in Bago had seen their own riverbank being eroded by powerful tidal surges in 2017, damaging homes and livelihoods of the residents. The residents from Ta Dar U village had eventually been forced to depart from the lands they had cultivated for decades.
Until now, the riverbank erosion has never ceased to stop, more villagers located near the riverbanks in regions like Bago and Magwe and are forced to leave their homes, while river bank erosion had claimed 261 lives from 2014 to 2017, according to Myanmar Action Plan on Disaster Risk Reduction 2017.
When the people who are dependent on their land are no longer familiar with the landscapes and seasons, the estrangement of their land could gradually lead to a loss of way of life, culture and identity. Where is humanity in all this?
First Climate Strike Movement
The grim reality of the climate crisis could creep into mind and body —— in Myanmar, a group of youngsters took their anger to the streets last year.
The protest which took place last September was a part of the global climate strike, which has been the biggest climate change mobilisation in history with 7.6 million participants worldwide.
“The leaders, activists and supporters of the climate movement are mostly youth, but we assume that most youth today still have a weak understanding regarding climate change.” Kyaw Ye Thet, founder of Climate Strike Myanmar said in the documentary.
To Derville and Manole, they were surprised and inspired by the participation of local Myanmar people and foreigners. “That’s something you don’t usually see in Myanmar,” said Manole.
The anger, fear and disappointment on the streets seem to echo with the question that Changes in the Fields attempts to pose —— “what do you [the farmers] understand about climate change and what do you think are the risks behind climate change?”
“In the end, they think that deforestation, an increase of human activity, industrialization, production, economic system in general [are the risks behind],” said Manole.
The Way Forward —— Reconnecting Humanity
“I think climate change is one of the only things in this world that can bring together humanity, and we hope that people in Myanmar will be able to see this as well and act together,” said Manole.
The tragedy of our times has been unfolding around us —— the stories of heatwaves, cyclones to wildfires or dying corals, blueberry bushes and polar bears getting more noticeable day by day. This documentary could act as a blueprint to lay out a potential vision for the future —— the story of how we can act now and make things right.
“Whether you’re involved in a community or an organization, or doing your own business, no matter what field you’re involved in, wherever you stand now, I would like to urge you to demand the government to address climate change and to do whatever you can to participate in this fight,” urged Kyaw Ye Thet, founder of Climate Strike Myanmar.
See the documentary on Youtube: