Myanmar is beginning its journey on the road to achieving ‘Zero Hunger’ and there is good reason to be optimistic that the final destination – the eradication of hunger and malnutrition – can be reached in the not too distant future. It will be a challenging journey, but with determination, coordination and cooperation, it’s a route that can be successfully navigated.
While Myanmar has made gains over the years in reducing hunger, there are still an estimated eight million people who are undernourished.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has, at its heart, a mandate to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. The new government of Myanmar has also included these among its prime objectives. So the road ahead is clearly signposted. At FAO we are keen to help Myanmar achieve these mutual goals. Indeed, Myanmar is one of five focus countries already participating in a wider FAO regional initiative in support of the Zero Hunger Challenge. And the opportunities to do more are evident.
During the past four years, the country’s economy has been steadily opening up and foreign investment and development assistance to Myanmar have significantly increased. Major changes are underway in areas such as infrastructure investments, improving banking systems, enhanced connectivity and urbanization (with its inevitable consequences).
With the new government in place, it’s expected that further investment and financial aid to Myanmar will be forthcoming. So this is an entry point, one that allows us to address, once and for all, the single biggest grassroots challenge of all – reaching that goal of Zero Hunger. How could we do otherwise? How could we allow this opportunity to slip from our grasp – to watch children continue to suffer from stunting or watch as families continue to be malnourished?
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has reiterated her strong belief that improving food security and nutrition requires assessing food systems, not merely in terms of the quantity of production, but also in terms of quality, access, diversity, equity, safety, resilience, and much more. Myanmar’s food systems must become not only economically sustainable, but also socially and ecologically sustainable.
Achieving zero hunger won’t be easy, but Myanmar has already stepped forward to meet the challenge, and, after joining the regional initiative, it has launched its own National Zero Hunger Challenge. With this new political mandate at the national level the momentum can not only be maintained, it can be accelerated.
And that acceleration can come through enhancements to the agricultural sector and attention to nutrition. The agriculture sector is at the core of Myanmar’s economy. Broadly defined as including crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry, agriculture contributes around 30 percent of GDP. Three in four people in Myanmar live in rural areas and agriculture remains critical to their livelihoods, providing employment for 61 percent of the working population. In a normal year, Myanmar produces enough food to supply its people and exports the surplus.
Together, FAO is working with the Government to help it improve agriculture and productivity, access to food and to enhance food security and improve the income of farmers while helping the country become better prepared to respond to natural disasters and mitigate the impacts of climate change. We were here following Cyclone Nargis to help Myanmar rehabilitate farming and coastal fishing and aquaculture communities and assist those worst impacted to regain their livelihoods. We’ve also worked together on the prevention and control of avian and human influenza in Myanmar and on the development of oil crops.
Together, we are continuing to collaborate to improve farmer livelihoods in the Dry Zone through improvements to livestock health, productivity and marketing. These initiatives and collective efforts will improve rural livelihoods and work towards that goal of Zero Hunger.
Together we can do more and working together we can arrive at the Zero Hunger destination.
Kundhavi Kadiresan is the Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.