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Education workshops have been held in the Burmese capital aimed at tackling rising rates of gambling among farmers, an issue that threatens to send greater numbers into debt.
Gambling is technically illegal in Burma, although the government turns a blind eye to the burgeoning casino industry in the country’s border regions. Farmers however are taking part in more informal activities, says Htun Lwin a meteorologist who was present at one of the sessions.
“When I was travelling around for public lectures in rural areas, I got to talk with farmers and found out they are spending a lot of money on illegal two and three digit lotteries,” he said, adding that the phenomenon was “driving them deeper and deeper into poverty”.
Those present at the workshop, part of a three-day National Level Workshop on Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation in Naypyidaw, were initially coy, he said, likely a result of the status of the activity and the stigma attached to those involved.
A farmer in Bogalay township in the Irrawaddy delta said that problem was spreading among Burmese, and many low-income workers had lost their businesses. One man he spoke of had lost two-thirds of his farmland to pay off gambling debts.
The majority of buildings in Bogalay were destroyed by cyclone Nargis in May 2008, which killed upwards of 10,000 people in the small town. The slow pace of reconstruction, even three years on, has pushed inhabitants to look for an income in the two-digit lottery games based on Thai stock exchange figures.
The Rangoon-based Seven Day News said that 70 percent of village populations in Rangoon division’s Htantabin township are playing the two-digit lottery.