- Food-based products from neighbouring countries are entering our domestic market, despite the abundance of rice, beans, corn, edible oil crops, vegetables, and fruits in Myanmar. Why? One reason is that although we are a food producer nation, we are weak in manufacturing finished food products.
At a time when we are focusing on rice cultivation and production alone, imported rice-based foodstuff, including instant porridge, noodles, powder, and cookies, have become popular among Myanmar consumers.
Likewise, the market share of our domestic edible oil, derived from groundnut or sesame, is much smaller when compared with that of imported vegetable oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and soybean oil. Those foreign brands are attracting more buyers as they are better in quality and packaging, and lower in price. What’s more, they guarantee the safety of their products.
Myanmar has already set the goal of turning itself into an agro-based industrial country. We have huge swathes of vacant and fallow land, plenty of labour, and ready internal and external markets. Besides, 60 per cent of our domestic industries are involved in food-manufacturing. But, about 90 per cent of them are small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Domestic food producers, especially SMEs, cannot guarantee their products’ safety, and the quality of their goods is much lower, because they have less capital and lag in technology. They are also weak in packaging.
So, their products do not meet the standards set for exports. Even if their products meet export standards, they do not manufacture enough to meet the demand. All these disadvantages have originated in our weakness in turning agricultural raw materials into value-added goods. In other words, we need higher technology and larger investments in this sector.
Recently, a Myanmar business entity signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with its Japanese counterpart to set up a new industrial zone in Yangon, where quality food-based products will be manufactured.
The main raw material will come from domestic sources. The Japanese company will invest US$150 million in the industrial zone. We hope that more such industrial zones are set up in the future as they can generate jobs for the young and ensure a steady raw material market for our farmers.
We can also set up foodstuff industrial zones in other major towns of the country, where infrastructure, electricity, water, and roads and bridges are available. We need to set them up in many places all over Myanmar as they can serve as a springboard for the robust economic development of our country.