Myanmar’s famed Inle Lake chokes on floating farms | Environment

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From a gently rocking boat, Nyunt Win tends a floating tomato crop in the cool water of Myanmar’s famed Inle Lake, nestled in the Shan Hills and once the country’s most popular tourist spot.

The floating farms have become as ubiquitous at the UNESCO-recognised reserve as its houses on stilts and leg-rowing fishermen, but residents warn that the plantations are slowly choking the lake.

The ever-expanding farms are eating up surface area, sending chemical runoff into the waters, and clogging the picturesque site with discarded plant matter, critics say.

Nyunt Win once farmed on dry land near Inle, but he said the “productivity was not great”.

Several years ago he bought a share in a floating plantation and now makes 30,000 kyats ($14) per box of tomatoes. “We’re not prosperous but we can rely on this for a living,” he said.

But aquaculture comes at a cost to the lake. The farms must be anchored in place and the produce shielded from the sun – mainly by invasive water hyacinths.

The weed grows rampantly on the surface of Inle, depleting oxygen levels by blotting out light for other plants, so it makes for a free and abundant building block for plantations.

Out on the lake, Si Thu Win heaves mounds of water hyacinths and other aquatic plants from the water to shore up and protect his plants.

“The (tomato) plants do not last long if it’s sunny,” he says.

“To protect the roots, we have to cover them.”

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