The Problems: economic and social perspectives

Farming is a way of life for all Kachins and even the Chief is an agriculturist but has no specialization.

The Kachins do the following: their main livelihood is agriculture, they have animals like pigs, goats and so on for supplementary income. They are also hunters and manufacturing was virtually unknown until recently. In common with most hilly areas in Southeast Asia, the ‘slash-burn’ technique, often termed the ‘swialden method’, has been the usual means of rice cultivation on the steep slopes of the Kachin Hills.

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This method requires nearly a full year to produce one crop of paddy. It begins with the cutting of trees and bushes on the selected hillside from January, and ends in November or December when the harvested grain is carried home. During the intervening months, a period of hard labor until the beginning of the rains in June, there is the constant responsibility of guarding the fields against birds and animals until the crop is harvested. The women do most of the work connected with ‘swailde’ cultivation, except for a few of the heavier tasks that are done by the men, such as cutting down the larger trees, fencing the plot with the larger branches, and building the temporary bamboo house. Along with the rice crop, the Kachin also plant vegetables suitable for rainy season growth, such as maize, beans, mustard, and pumpkins. Hunting was also a need of the Kachin people who are at home in the jungle and well-versed in hunting ways. Hunting is common during the cold season and is done with troops, snores, deadfalls, pellet bows, and guns.

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For fishing they use bamboo wires in the larger creeks and streams and sometimes a poisonous plant is used to stupefy the fish in quiet pools. Almost all average Kachins are poor businessman but despite this they have been deeply involved in the opium trade. This has come about primarily through their being able to raise the opium poppy in distant corners of the Kachin hills, and produce the crude opium for which that part of Southeast Asia has become well-known. In opposing the opium trade, the early missionaries and Kachin leaders struggled to find another cash crop that would serve as a suitable substitute, but so far this has been unsuccessful and there is still more growing, trading, planting and using among the Kachin.
Multi-national companies are making money out of developing markets in Burma (Myanmar) with no regard for human rights or how the Burmese Junta uses the foreign capital.

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The Burmese Junta and Chinese merchants collaborate in working jade (precious green stone), gold mining as well as logging (wood producing).The profits go directly to the Junta so their productivity is not of benefit to the Kachin people. The Kachin economy is heavily dependent upon the use of bamboo which is especially used for posts and house flooring. A few of the multitudinous uses of bamboo involve house construction, including joists, flooring, woven mat walls, rafters, thatch, and the bamboo splints or cords used to lay these together; tubes in which to carry water from the stream and store it in the house; fencing around the house or garden; clappers used to scare birds away from ripening paddy fields; parts of the woven baskets in which the women carry heavy loads; fire-making equipment; pipes for smoking opium; cups for the communion service, flutes, fish traps and wires; pontoons bridges, carrying poles and in so many other areas of daily life.

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Almost every business is illegal and the smaller ones are often crushed down by military police in Burma (Myanmar) whereas the larger among investments are free to cross openly by the main road. In this case most of the Kachin people are not familiar with trade and it is necessary to improve this state of things. Kachin economy is totally dependent on natural resources and when we compare it to other countries, the economic situation of the Kachin people is absent except in their dreams. Their incomes or salaries are not enough to support entire families. (J.K.)


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