- By Dr. Thein Htay
The agricultural sector is the backbone of Myanmar’s economy. The country’s economic development depends mainly on agricultural productivity, which sets goals for the all-round development programmes.
Historically and at present, the country’s economy has been dependent on the agriculture sector, which is the main livelihood for the majority of the people.
Agricultural goods are one of largest export commodities, and the most important sector for the country’s economy. The agriculture sector contributes to 20.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), or about Ks11,357.41 billion.
In Myanmar, the majority of the country’s population lives in rural areas due to the dependence on farmland and forests for their livelihoods in agriculture, which is an important growth engine of rural development.
About 17.7 per cent of Myanmar’s land is used for agriculture, which is about 12 million hectares. Myanmar was once Asia’s largest exporter of rice, and it still remains one of the country’s most important agricultural commodities. Other main crops include corn, rice, maize, black gram, green gram, pigeon pea, chick pea, pulses, beans, onions, groundnuts, sesame, spices, ginger, potato, turmeric, sugarcane, sunflower, rubber, coffee and rubber. Among these rice, pulses and sesame, groundnut, raw rubber, vegetables and fruit are the chief commodities.
The country has established 12 political, economic and social objectives in its efforts to establish a peaceful, modern and developed country. One of the major economic objectives is “development of agriculture as a base and all-round development of other sectors of the economy as well.”
As for the ministry, aims and objectives were set for the emergence of a modern, developed nation. Moreover, the Ministry has laid down the necessary vision, mission, policy, objective and strategy to develop the agricultural sector of Myanmar.
At the same time, implementations are being made to increase the products of agriculture in order to preserve the trading business.
As long as the world’s population increases, the percentage of the population dependent on the agriculture sector also increases. Myanmar, as a member of World Trade Organization (WTO), needs for its people to abide by the rules and regulations which are prescribed by the country.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation has been trying its best to export high-value finished products which can enhance the income and living standards of the farmers. The ministry is trying to produce more agricultural products. And with foreign financial assistance, long-term, mid-term and short-term plans are being made to support the farmers and cultivators in producing high-value products instead of raw products. The Ministry is implementing the National Export Strategy, which will be able to get a good price for export items.
It is important for the farmers and cultivators to utilise high-yield and good quality seeds, and training should be conducted on advanced agricultural techniques. For sustainable agricultural development, research and development activities are essential to implement the process. The authorities should encourage transformation from conventional to mechanised agriculture.
It is of vital importance to justify and amend existing agricultural laws and regulations in line with the current economic situation so that we can invite international investment in the agriculture sector for the development of advanced agricultural technology and commercial agricultural production.
In addition, the government has also taken steps to update and streamline the existing laws and regulations which are in need of changing or replacing.
Although Myanmar is rich in natural resources and has a strategic location, the agriculture sector has underperformed over the past decades, especially in terms of productivity, equity and stability.
Basically, the country abounds in natural resources such as oil, natural gas, gems, forests, livestock and fisheries.
Currently, the country depends on traditional manual labour and lacks the advanced technology needed to produce value-added finished goods. That’s why developing an agro-based industry is one of the top priorities for both the government and domestic members of the private sector.
The country has a very open competitive fertilizer market, and fertilizer is regarded as one of the most imported items in the agricultural sector in Myanmar. Myanmar produces a few percentages of fertilizers and does not have a competitive advantage in fertilizer production compared to other neighbouring countries.
Organic farming is being conducted in some parts of the country, but due to the slow results of organic fertilizers, local farmers prefer chemical fertilizers, which offer quicker results and opportunities to harvest.
The ASEAN Free Trade (AFTA) is a trade bloc agreement by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations supporting local manufacturing in all ASEAN countries.
Myanmar has signed a number of Memoranda of Understanding to expand bilateral trade with those countries.
As a member of ASEAN, Myanmar participates in all inter-ASEAN agreements and multilateral free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, and South Korea, in order to attract foreign direct investment from these countries
The primary goals of AFTA seek to increase ASEAN’s competitive edge as a production base in the world market through the elimination, within ASEAN, of tariffs and non-tariff barriers.
Myanmar has opened border trade points with neighbouring countries including India, Thailand and China, and is aimed at opening more trade points to further enhance the trading with these countries.
Efforts are being made for the sustainable economic plans, which are targeted at developing a market-oriented economy in Myanmar. Plans are also underway to strengthen farming production, enhance food security, increase exports and improve the living standards of the rural population, which depend on farming as the first and key source of income. Moreover, the government is reforming the laws and policies governing the country’s agriculture sector to meet the set targets under the economic plan.
Win Ko Ko Aung