Nipa palm thatch industry vanishing for lack of workers

A woman makes nipa palm thatch in Kyauktan. Photo: Myitmakha News Agency
A woman makes nipa palm thatch in Kyauktan. Photo: Myitmakha News Agency

DESPITE the thriving demand for nipa palm thatch roofing in the Mon State capital of Mawlamyine, a diminishing workforce has put the industry on the verge of extinction, according to local craftspeople.
In the past, the entire village of Kyauktan in Mawlamyine was involved in the business of producing nipa palm thatch, with Kyauktan Nipa thatch gaining fame across the state, but these days only about five individuals in the village still practice the craft, according to Daw Myint Oo, a nipa palm thatch entrepreneur.
“There used to be five large nipa palm facilities in Kyauktan Village, which would weave palm leaves into thatch, with each facility boasting a workforce of around 40 people. These days, though, no one plants nipa palm trees anymore, since those who used to pick and stitch the nipa plam leaves have travelled to other countries to find work. The whole nipa thatch industry is about to disappear into obscurity,” she said.
Nipa palm thatch is used throughout Mon State on the homes of elderly people; the buildings of independent, small-scale entrepreneurs; livestock pens; and middle-class homes designed to release heat. Though demand for the thatch remains high, the depletion of workers within the industry has raised prices year upon year.
Most crops cultivated on the Mon State islands of Hinthar, Kawmupun, Kyauktan, Katonepaw, Kyunkalay and Kinkyaung were, at one time, nipa palm trees. After being made into thatch in Kyauktan Village, the product was then transported and sold throughout the state, as well as in Bago and Ayeyawady regions.
“The aftermath of Cyclone Nargis saw an increase in the cutting and planting of nipa palms—workers had come from the delta regions to work.
For the picking and stitching of nipa palm, though, skill is required. It’s not a skill everyone can apply. That’s the reason behind the scarcity of workers, which has caused people to shift to planting beans and pluses instead,” said U Hla Shein, a Kyauktan Village resident.
In previous years, the price for a hundred sheets of nipa thatch would fetch approximately K4,000, but the recent scarcity of the thatch as resulted in the same quantity costing K6,000,
and even more during the rainy season.— Myitmakha News Agency

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