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July 03, 2020

Agricultural Development for Creating Employment

By Lokethar

Myanmar has a land area of 676,575 square kilometers and a population of just 53 million. It is one of the most sparsely populated country in South East Asia. It is also among the ASEAN countries with still vast unused resources, especially land for Agriculture. Although Myanmar has seen development in many areas, Agriculture is still the mainstay of the economy as regards food security as well as export earnings of surplus Agricultural produce. It is also the biggest provider of wage as well as self employment.
However Agriculture had not developed to any great extent for decades since Myanmar gained it’s independence in 1948 from the British. Despite the support provided by the successive governments concerned to develop agriculture as well as probably the half-hearted efforts by farmers and growers to take advantage of them, Agriculture did not get the boost it needed. Agriculture Mechanization over the past periods did not make much headway either. Hence motivating the farmers and growers to make greater efforts and earn more income by showing them the way for further Agricultural development with increasing spread of Agriculture Mechanization is the road that the present Government had embarked up on for further Agricultural development. It seems to be paying off but there is still a long way to go.
Myanmar’s potential for further agricultural development is immense. However, it has to educate the farmers to use better agricultural practices. This requires relentless effort by the Ministries and Departments concerned to make available both the knowledge and resources needed to push up agricultural development. With Climate Change looming, it would be necessary to make farmers aware of measures for most productive land and water utilization, crop selection, diversification etc. in line with weather patterns and market situation of the produce.

A farmer ploughs his field. PHOTO: PHOE KHWAR
A farmer ploughs his field. PHOTO: PHOE KHWAR

Marketing of Agricultural Produce (AP) is the most important area to further motivate farmers to exert more effort in Agriculture. For many years in the past, Myanmar’s Agricultural Produce has been marketed as being of “Fair Average Quality {FAQ)”. The price fetched was rather low as the AP was used by the many importing countries as raw material for making industrial products and animal feed. The farmers and the exporters it seems, were quite complacent about their earnings as well. However things seems to have improved nowadays to the point that we are beginning to export good quality AP, rice for instance, in increasing quantities. Myanmar has to further make known to the world the superior types of rice grain ( Shwebo Pawsan and others) produced in Myanmar.
The next biggest foreign market for AP are pulses and beans. The so called “Dry Zone “ area in the middle part of Myanmar produces large amounts of pulses and beans. The challenge is to improve the quantity and quality of the pulses and beans crops. Cotton is another AP which , if the quality is good, will be in increasing demand in future in view of the cloth it can be woven to manufacture comfortable body wear. In the future, Jute which had been grown extensively in Myanmar in the nineteen fifties and sixties for making “Gunny Bags” to pack rice and other grains, could make a come back because of the declining trend in the manufacture of synthetic fibres.
For increased exporting of AP, as direct food imports by the importing countries, it is of utmost importance that they meet quality standards with regard to safety and other specific features. For this, education of the farmers about the right farming techniques and supporting inputs being undertaken will need to be extensive. For effective marketing, Internationally recognised Quality Control Certifying Test Laboratories which can provide the certificates are much needed. Transparency and accuracy of the testing process is a further requirement.
Marketing could be by Private or Co-operative establishments with modern storage facilities to hold the produce to maintain it’s quality prior to shipment for export. Such storage facilities could also enable advance purchase and storage prior to export which could ensure the stability of incomes of the farmers. It seems that there are already some Private Rice Mills with facilities to hold rice/paddy in proper storage prior to export. These should be further promoted.
With regard to marketing, and especially export, it is important to have several countries to export to instead of relying on only one or two countries. As the saying goes “it’s not wise to put all your eggs in one basket”. The exporters of Agriculture produce know this well but there seems to be constraints in the “Export Marketing” system. There are neighbouring countries of Myanmar which would be more than eager to import many of Myanmar’s Agricultural Produce.
Then there should be set up modern industries to process AP into consumer products for local use. Setting up modern Oil Mills to produce edible oil from, say peanuts, would mean substantial savings in import of edible oil. As of now many “low tech” oil mills (some even now operated by Bullock Power) in the villages and Rural Townships are producing edible Peanut Oil consumed locally. These oil mills could be updated as to the technology used and continue running as small and medium industries to supply local needs to lessen the burden to the State of importing edible oil.
Of course there are many more avenues of increasing AP which would benefit the Union and the people. The above suggestions are just about those based on observation of the lay person. It seems that the Covid-19 virus will be around for much longer. Hence it would be logical to limit investment at this juncture, in “difficult to observe social distancing” manufacturing facilities of low value added products. In view of this it would perhaps be better for Myanmar to place emphasis on Agriculture for further economic development and employment creation. With Charity to all and Malice to none.

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