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October 21, 2018

Opportunities and challenges of sustainable agricultural exports

  • By Khin Yadanar

Scarcity of skilled workers
Myanmar is an ethnically diverse country and it is estimated that about 70 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, according to the census. Myanmar being an agricultural country, agriculture sector has become the back-bone of its economy. Thus, a majority of the rural populace rely upon agricultural and livestock sectors that play an important part in the economic growth. That is because nature has blessed the country with vast areas of fertile land, as well as abundant natural resources that are the principal ingredients of an agro-based economy. Moreover, Myanmar is one of the top rice-producing countries in the world which is regarded as the country’s most important crop that is grown all over the country. Therefore, rice remains the staple food in Myanmar.
There are, however, several challenges to change the mechanization in the agricultural sectors in the country. Nowadays, the role of agricultural workers becomes crucial and there arise a lot of job transfers of the workers by dint of low wages. With each passing year, the number of workers has become fewer and fewer in the agricultural sector, year by year, for various reasons.
“Currently, the cultivation cost per acre ranges from Ks 150,000 to Ks 200,000, and harvesting cost per acre is Ks 150,000 as well. Because of labour shortage in many parts of the country, it is difficult to hire them,” said the cultivators. “There is still not enough mechanization in the farming sector. That’s why we are facing cattle shortage and cannot afford to buy expensive agricultural machineries that are worth from Ks20 million to Ks30 million,” added the cultivators. Demand for labour in agriculture is very high in the major rice-growing regions, including Ayeyawady and Bago regions, Rakhine and Mon states while labour shortage occurs in many places, especially in Magway, Sagaing and Mandalay regions as well as Shan State. Although there are 18 million acres of farmlands in Myanmar, the actual grown acres are less than 15 million, according to the agriculture experts.
Substantial wages
“We have faced the scarcity of labourers for a long time, and the main thing is that their wages are very low compared to their counterparts in other sectors. An odd-job worker can fetch only Ks7000 per day and has to work at most six months in a year. Authorities concerned have tried to move from traditional farming to industrialized one, encouraging the formation of cooperatives and providing capital to purchase the farming equipment. In Myanmar, there are many such small- and medium-sized businesses, based on farming products, looking to get medium- and long-term loans to expand.

Sustainable agricultural product
“Although the agriculture sector constitutes 30 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), only a few percentages of farmers can enjoy healthy profits and majority of them have to suffer the impact of socio-economic status. Cooperation is of great important to ensure sustainable crop production systems and to produce agro livestock products so that we could vie with them in the international markets. “The costs are very high on account of scarcity of labourers. As a result, they cannot afford to spend on the production costs” said U Chit Khine, Chairman of Myanmar Rice Federation.
Myanmar’s unusually fertile soils and abundant water sources are legendary in Southeast Asia region. It is even said that Myanmar has the most favorable agricultural conditions and almost anything can be grown in the country, from fruits to vegetables, from rice to pulses. However, the sector will continue to play a remarkable role in reducing poverty in Myanmar for many years to come. Farmers in Myanmar use much less fertilizer, often with the wrong nutrient balance, because of the lack of knowledge and training and a shortage of fertilizer quality assurance.

Factors to be taken into consideration
A policy shift is needed from rice production to broad-based agricultural support. Producing more and getting higher paddy yields does not automatically lead to higher farm incomes. Higher incomes will be generated from better farm management obtained by better public programs and policies. Higher income will also be accrued from more strategic diversification. It is important, therefore, that farmers have the freedom to select the least costly and most profitable crops to make their production effective and profitable. In other words, producing more by using fewer inputs, or using inputs better instead of using more, to achieve higher yields, is a key to ensuring high returns for the progress of agriculture. Agricultural extension services are to be scaled up and strengthened to reach out to more farmers and cover more crops to accelerate adoption of productivity-increasing farm technologies.

Agricultural sector development
As for authority concerned, efforts should be made to easy access to quality education a reality, and strengthen the actions aimed at becoming agriculturalists, disseminating agricultural information to farmers and moving from traditional to industrialized farming techniques in order to boost productivity in the agricultural sector. Myanmar’s agricultural performance offers opportunities for successful agricultural development in the country where rapid gains can be made by better inputs, better seeds and improvement of logistical and marketing arrangements. Therefore, it is paramount that improvement of agriculture is urgently needed to capitalize this emerging demand.

Translated by Win Ko Ko Aung

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