Shortfalls in irrigation and low rates of the use of machinery have led to low productivity in Myanmar’s agricultural sector. A 2016 World Bank report found productivity was behind that of the country’s regional counterparts. During the monsoon months, for example, one day of work would generate 23 kg of paddy in Myanmar, compared to 62 kg in Cambodia, 429 kg in Vietnam and 547 kg in Thailand. “Myanmar has a very low yield for agricultural goods – under 50% that of Thailand,” U Myo Thant, vice-president of Myanmar CP Livestock, told OBG. “Education is central to improving this, and needs to move beyond theory into practice.”
Various factors restrict agriculture’s productivity, including seed quality, and a long-standing constraint faced by smallholder farmers is the high cost of inputs. Generally, these farmers settle for lower-quality agricultural products, which impairs both the quality and yield of the harvest. Increasing farmers’ access to high-quality inputs is vital if Myanmar is to optimise its agricultural output. Better fertilisers, seeds, agro-chemicals and machinery would allow farmers to raise production. It would also allow them to cultivate high-value crops that meet international standards, thereby boosting export trade volumes and profits.
Efforts to meet this goal are already being made. The Myanmar Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association, in an agreement with regional groups, announced in September 2018 that it will purchase large quantities of high-quality inputs and distribute them to farmers in the Bago, Mandalay and Sagaing regions at affordable prices. As they are receiving the inputs on a loan basis, farmers can pay for them up to one month post-harvest.
One way that growers can increase productivity is mechanisation, which markedly reduces the manual labour and time needed to farm. Some areas, such as Lower Myanmar, are already seeing the rapid adoption of mechanisation, according to a Michigan State University study released in November 2018. The report found the opening of the economy has led to easier assess to finance and improved land rights, which in turn led to more and more farmers using machinery.
In addition, a growing farm equipment rental market and lower prices for machinery ushered in an uptick in mechanisation on Myanmar’s farms. In August 2018 the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System for Asia, an initiative of the International Food Policy Research Institute, released a study that was carried out on four townships in the central dry zone. The study found that most farmers in the area used mechanical land preparation techniques. However, the report also found that harvesting and threshing are still carried out manually, so the mechanisation process is far from complete. Nevertheless, the trend is promising considering the fact that the central dry zone holds around 25% of the population, with 83% of that figure dependent upon agriculture for their livelihoods.
Rice is vital to the country’s economy and food security, accounting for 43% of total agricultural production. In light of increasingly unpredictable climate conditions, officials have prioritised the protection of the nation’s staple crop from damage caused by flooding and drought. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) sponsored Climate Smart Rice Project, announced in May 2019, will educate and assist 4000 paddy farmers from Mandalay, Southern Shan, Mon and Bago in sustainable cultivation and resource-efficient practices. The project will focus on methods that have been proven to increase yields, as well as improve the water and fertiliser efficiency of crops and their resilience to climate change. “Myanmar is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change,” Dechen Tsering, regional director for Asia and the Pacific at UNEP, said in a briefing announcing the programme. “By expanding sustainable rice production, we can ensure rice crops are resilient to the impacts we are seeing and protect the economic welfare of thousands of farmers and their families.”
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