Agriculture Sector Development
Mark ( Ramree )
September , 2017

Agriculture is the backbone of Myanmar economy not only contributing to the overall economic growth of the country and but also sustaining a standard of living for more than 60 per cent of the Myanmar population. An estimated 26 per cent of the Myanmar population is living below the poverty line. Poverty in Myanmar is concentrated in rural areas, where the poor rely on agricultural and casual employment for their livelihoods. Many live near the poverty line and are sensitive to economy-wide shocks. Agricultural sector plays a remarkable role in reducing poverty in Myanmar for many years to come because it supplies basic necessities of human life, provides basic inputs for industries and, in addition to these, purveys goods for exports and other purposes. It is extremely crucial to Myanmar’s economy and future sustainable growth. If Myanmar agricultural production makes important contributions to general economic development, it can not only provide employment opportunities and but also give to diversification in such job opportunities especially in rural areas. It is one of the preconditions which must be established before a take-off into self-sustained economic growth becomes possible. The ability of agriculture to transfer its abundant resources to other sectors actually leads the economic growth. Myanmar is rich in fertile soils and abundant water sources are legendary in South-east Asia. Almost anything can be grown in the country, from fruits to vegetables, from rice to pulses. Myanmar’s agricultural sector dominates the economy, contributing 38 per cent of GDP, and employing more than 60 per cent of the workforce. Now, low labor productivity in Myanmar’s agricultural sector is the lowest in Southeast Asia. An agricultural worker in Myanmar earns only $1.80-$2.50 per day during monsoon season, and $3-$3.50 during the dry season.

In addition, not only Myanmar’s farm productivity remains low but also the farmers remain poor. Most farmers live on small holdings of land in rural areas; they also lack of information on the global supply-and-demand conditions that affect local prices; have limited access to crop management knowhow, and weather forecasts that impact agricultural operations. Making matters worse, farmers are at the receiving end of an expensive, highly fragmented supply chain with underdeveloped infrastructure. Largely controlled by unscrupulous middlemen, these value chains plough back only a small share of the consumer price to the farmers. Together, these problems keep the farm incomes low, and lock the farmers into a vicious cycle of low income, low investments, and low productivity. Themain reason is the lack of government support. If the government would support the farmers by giving them land, fertilizers, equipment, and proper income and profits then there would be no problems at all. Now, the government is steadily focusing on only political stability as the first priority not focusing on maintaining economic stability. The government should contribute to the economic growth of a country and provide the best entrepreneurial opportunities to the citizens. On the other hand, poor economic performance may lead to government collapse and political unrest. The government should provide a stable environment for economic growth when it can be depended upon to maintain the stability of the currency, enforce and defend property rights providing free proper education/ training/seminar to the farmers on modern farming techniques and new farm technologies to have an upturn in the agricultural development. Issues in Myanmar Agriculture Myanmar’s top agricultural exports include rice, maize, black gram, green gram, pigeon pea, chick pea, sesame, onion, tamarind, raw rubber, vegetables, and fruits. The World Bank estimates that the country’s agricultural sector accounts for 38% of national GDP and 23% of exports in FY 2016-2017. The critical issues that plague Myanmar agriculture sector at present are the knowledge deficit and infrastructure deficit, especially in the rural areas. Problems related to market infrastructure and transport infrastructure add significant cost to farmers’ operations. Another issue is lacking in delivery mechanisms and modern technologies. The farmers do not have effective modern farming methods. They are uneducated and less knowledgeable than their regional peers; they also access fewer public services than farmers in neighboring countries. The government is to educate the farmers in rural areas to boost Myanmar agricultural sector. Now, they cannot use modern and effective farming systems. And another issue is that they also lack of modified seed systems to boost the future agricultural productivity and value-added products for export. If the government implements development of agricultural mechanization in the region as part of revitalization efforts for farmland, it may able to increase quality production. But now most farmers in the rural areas are taking up their farming and agricultural business by the knowledge and experience which they have obtained from their relatives and or previous generation. Unfortunately, inadequate government support exacerbates these issues. The government failure is a major concern in agriculture sector because the high risks involved make help and facilitation necessary. Like any other business enterprise, Myanmar agriculture is subjected to high risks because of the volatile nature of the factors involved. In monsoon season, the famers experience flooding and torrential rain every year. Not only the government, therefore, is to play a major role in providing support to farmers with substantial intervention but also the government facilitation is essential for sound agricultural development.

The farmers also do not know whether they are able to manage the systems well, given the facts that large systems have not been well-managed in the past. As a result, they may also end up creating unintended problems like flooding in certain areas and deteriorate the existing situation. The farmers lack how to upgrade better the existing systems, let alone creating new systems. There are a number of issues with respect to private sector participation. In agriculture most of the returns come in the long term and it requires a lot of time and effort to develop the markets. There exist many new concepts like commodity markets and futures. Good quality standards are also new to people, therefore it needs enormous efforts on the part of private sector players to develop such markets in order to reap any profits. The problems faced can be tackled along multiple dimensions. One is that the government can do certain things on its own. Secondly, there should be institutional innovations like selfhelp groups, farmers clubs, and joint liability groups. The critical issues in Myanmar agricultural sector are related to knowledge and infrastructure. If the farmers have initiatives and institutions to tackle these issues, they will be better at managing big systems to achieve success in their endeavors. At the same time, government should look into new approaches like private sector participation and harnessing of indigenous knowledge to improve performance. Small farmers who are especially vulnerable to the monsoons should be focused upon and services like credit and crop insurance should be made more accessible. This will ensure that agricultural sector remains viable and caters for the country’s needs.

Farmers Need Good Quality Crop Seeds

Seeds are the most vital and crucial input for abundant production. Without good quality seeds, farmers will not make a lot of progress in agricultural sector. But most farmers in Myanmar use their traditional native seeds. Utilizing infertile traditional native seeds make agricultural sector decline. Unfortunately, good quality seeds are out of reach of the majority of the farmers, especially small and marginal farmers mainly because of exorbitant prices of better seeds. Seed industries in Myanmar should be privatized by the government because the role of seed industries is not only to produce adequate quantity of quality seeds but also to achieve varietal diversity to suit various agro-climatic zones of the country. The policy statements are designed towards making available to the farmers, adequate quantities of seed of superior quality at the appropriate time and place and at an affordable price so as to meet the country’s food and nutritional security goals. The supply of certified paddy seeds is estimated to meet only one per cent of demand. The situation for other crops is even worse: the public system does not produce enough quality seeds. It is not a surprise that most farmers use their own saved seeds, a practice that keeps yields low. Second, the insufficient use of fertilizers: Farmers 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. As a result, Myanmar’s agriculture sector yields remain low.

Inadequate Transport

One of the main handicaps with Myanmar agricultural sector is the lack of cheap and efficient means of transportation. Villages in the rural areas are not well connected with main roads or with market centers. Most roads in the rural areas become useless in the rainy season. So the farmers mostly use traditional transportation such as carts and bullock cart and so forth. Under these circumstances the farmers cannot carry their produce to the main market and are forced to sell it in the local market at low price. Linking each village by concreted road is a gigantic task and it needs huge sums of money to complete this task.

Lack of Mechanization

In spite of the large scale mechanization of agriculture in some parts of the country, most of the agricultural operations in larger parts are carried on by human hand using simple and conventional tools and implements like wooden plough, sickle, etc. Little or no use of machines is made in plough, sowing, irrigating, thinning and pruning, weeding, harvesting threshing and transporting the crops. This is specially the case with small and marginal farmers. It results in huge wastage of human labor and in low yields per capita labor force. There urgently need to mechanize the agricultural operations so that wastage of labor force is avoided and farming is made convenient and efficient. Agricultural implements and machinery are a crucial input for efficient and timely agricultural operations, facilitating multiple cropping and thereby increasing production. Strategies and programs are to be supported directly towards replacement of traditional and inefficient implements by improved ones, enabling the farmer to own tractors, power tillers, harvesters and other machines. Government is to support reasonable industrial base for manufacturing of the agricultural machines for cow –dung farmers. Strenuous efforts are being made to encourage the farmers to adopt technically advanced agricultural equipment in order to carry farm operations timely and precisely and to economies the agricultural production process.

Manures, Fertilizers and Biocides

Myanmar soils have been used for growing crops over hundreds of years without caring much for replenishing. This has led to depletion and exhaustion of soils resulting in their low productivity. The average yields of almost all the crops are among the lowest in the world. This is a pressing problem which can be solved by using more manures and fertilizers. Manures and fertilizers play the same role in relation to soils as good food in relation to body. Just as a well-nourished body is capable of doing any good job, a wellnourished soil is capable of giving good yields. However, there are practical difficulties in providing sufficient manures and fertilizers in all parts of Myanmar’s dimensions inhabited by peasant farmers. Chemical fertilizers are costly and are often beyond the reach of poor farmers. The fertilizer problem is, therefore, both acute and complex. The government is to give high incentive especially in the form of heavy subsidy for using chemical fertilizers.

Modernized Equipment Will Leads to Success in Agriculture Sector

When surplus is generated in agricultural sector the purchasing power of the farmers will increase which will lead to increase the demand for industrial goods. Therefore, the demand for manufactured goods remains limited. But when the agricultural productivity increases, the incomes of farmers lead to expand the demand for manufactured goods. In this way, the market will be extended. The manufactured sector will gain momentum. Moreover, in such, situation the demand for agricultural inputs like fertilizers, tractors and harvesters will increase. This will also provide a stimulus to industrial sector. The expansion of industrial sector will have the effects on the means of transportation and communication with many forward and backwash effects. So many sectors of the economy will grow and producers’ profits will increase leading to enhance capital formation. This is the contribution of agricultural sector to the other sectors of the economy when it trades with other sectors. The government should woo private players by giving them incentives to play a major role in agricultural research and development. If the civilian government is willing to save the future of the farmers and permanently cure the ills of Myanmar agriculture, major policy interventions have to be made at the earliest.