By Maung Toe Aung
Traditionally, Myanmar people eat their meals with rice and curries which are served simultaneously at the table. Myanmar is one of the top rice-producing countries in the world and it is regarded as the country’s most important crop and is grown all over the country. Therefore rice remains the staple food in Myanmar. People in Myanmar are among the highest rice consumers in the world, consuming more than 300 grams per day per person.
A Country Blessed
Myanmar is rich in natural resources including cultivable land, available water resources, and climate favourable for growing rice. Myanmar is also a major producer of various types of beans, pulses and other crops, including wheat, corn, oilseeds, vegetables, potatoes, mangoes, bananas, rambutan and pineapple. Rice is economically and politically significant
in the country, therefore successive governments have attempted to further develop the production of rice.
Growing rice in Myanmar depends on irrigated lowland, rain-fed lowland, deep-water, and upland. Rain-fed lowland and deep-water rice are confined to the delta region and coastal strip of Rakhine State. Nearly 60% of the delta region, including the Ayeyarwady, Bago, and Yangon region is cultivated with rain-fed rice. Because of rainfall, irrigation is critical in the delta area where there is more concern about drainage and flood protection.
According to the experts, the international price of rice was higher than domestic prices, and Myanmar consumes relatively more rice compared with other countries because it also utilizes the crop for different varieties of snack food.
Driving force for self-sufficiency
Therefore rice is the most important crop in the country and sustainable growth in paddy cultivation plays a key role in the economic growth in Myanmar. The government is prioritized to increase with major policies and objectives which are aimed at increasing productivity for self-sufficiency to boost the foreign exchange earnings.
To further enhance production, the government also provides credit programs for low-income farmers and encourages private companies which can provide micro financing and assistance to the rice farmers in order to buy rice seeds and other agricultural inputs.
The government abolished the low-price procurement system on rice and the new rice trading policy was adopted to ensure free trade of the crop to aid the market-oriented economy. This marked the second liberalization of the agricultural sector.
It is of vital importance for the government to provide necessary infrastructure and facilities which can progress the agriculture sector and enhance foreign trading. The authority concerned and policymakers should prioritize maintenance of the stable rice price as well as sufficient supply of affordable rice to consumers.
Historically, Myanmar was once the world’s largest exporter of rice due to a wealth of natural and labour resources and still to be on the fast track to development.
Myanmar’s economy continues to hold strong in the wake of economic reforms and liberalization. If properly nurtured, the resources and adopted effective policies, the production of rice can help the country regain much of its former standing as a lead producer in the region.
To do so, however, efforts should be made to invest in the agricultural sector and to provide the provision of better financing for the farmers.
Reasons of dwindling rice exports
Myanmar is a country with an abundance of agricultural resources and it has been a major producer and exporter of rice in the world market.
Although Myanmar was one of the largest rice exporters in the world market, it became less prominent in the South-east Asian regions. Reasons of dwindling rice exports are many and varied but some of the major reasons are low productivity, decline of surplus and lack of big markets.
Another obstacle is lack of skills and facilities in the process of growing paddy. The majority of the farmers don’t try how to develop farming methods with proper drainage, irrigation because they don’t take advantage of land development and modern techniques.
Even if they are interested, farmers have to develop the land with traditional methods using cattle and only very few of them can use machines.
Moreover cropping patterns can also affects crop productivity per acre because the majority of the farmers are able to grow single crop in a year due to various constraints. As a result, crop yield becomes fall off and year after years.
Now with the change of policies and regulations on agriculture in Myanmar, the farmers are able to use machine for land development.
Renaissance Rice Production
According to the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), rice
export in the 2018-2019 fiscal Year exceeded its target of 2 million tons, which had an estimated export value of US$600 million.
Rice exports are likely to hit about 2.5 million tons, as of the end of March, 2018. It is a milestone in Myanmar’s rice market history.
Thanks to the leadership of MRF and strenuous efforts of private businessmen, rice export volume has reached more than 2 million tons, the highest record within five decades.
Officials report that 60 per cent of rice exports went to China’s market, along with 44 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. Rice plays a vital role for Myanmar, in a bid to pursue export-led growth strategies and MRF is planning to increase its target to more than 2 million in the following fiscal year.
In order to export to other countries, it is essential to take into consideration of not only the improvement of land use rights, financing, skills and infrastructure, but also better food safety standards so that exports to developed countries can be expanded.
While modernization is under way in Myanmar’s agricultural industry, the agriculture sector continues to play a major part in the country’s economic growth which still remains a significant engine for growth. Indeed, concerted efforts should be made to play a key role in the country’s economic transformation which can make Myanmar’s land more productive, improve the earnings of farmers and generate higher income.
Translated by Win Ko Ko Aung