Interview: U Ye Min Aung
What opportunities are available to foreign investors interested in the agriculture sector?
U YE MIN AUNG: Many in the agriculture sector will remember that, in the 1950s, Myanmar was known as the “Rice Bowl of the World” and we were the largest rice exporter. We are now becoming a key player in the agro-sector once again. There is an urgent need to develop financing for small and medium-sized businesses: insurance options for crop protection, human resources, farm machinery, research and development of seeds and other inputs, expansion of value-adding facilities, and quality control of final products for food safety and traceability. Equally important is the improvement of warehouse facilities and logistics, which will bring down the prices of transporting goods.
After decades of sanctions, how central is the success of Myanmar’s rice industry to the overall development of the national economy?
YE MIN AUNG: The sanctions weakened our nation and institutions. This resulted in a bottleneck for development in the country and, in order to combat today’s volatile market conditions, we must strengthen institutions, particularly in the banking and finance sector. We also need human resource development to enhance our ability to compete in the global market. In Myanmar, we place a heavy emphasis on the rice industry, as 60-70% of our population consists of smallhold farmers. Out of this figure, close to 90% of the farmers depend on rice for subsistence. Myanmar’s economy is picking up rapidly and growth must be inclusive.
What areas will be prioritised in the first stages of modernising the nation’s farming capabilities?
YE MIN AUNG: The administration of President U Thein Sein has been pushing for more people-centred development. In line with this, MRF believes that farmers are the most critical players in the agro supply chain. Our priorities are smallholders and landless farmers, and we work with the government and non-governmental organisations to provide farmers with access to working capital and the market. Farm mechanisation and training are also essential developments, and MAPCO, the business arm of MRF, is currently working on several projects such as the Integrated Rice Complex Project (IRCP) and a grain terminal development in Thilawa.
This is in an effort to modernise farming efficiency and enhance the livelihoods of our people.
What actions are being taken to help farmers achieve greater crop yields and sustainably develop the country’s agricultural output?
YE MIN AUNG: The opening of our economy after 50 years of stagnation has allowed us a latecomer advantage, as we can learn from the achievements and mistakes of neighbouring countries. The right steps must be taken initially in order to correctly develop a sustainable supply chain. At MRF, we constantly engage our farmers and educate them on food security, water security, traceability and controlled chemical use. Crop protection is important in this volatile market, and we strive to provide good quality seeds to our farmers.
In your opinion, what role can Japan play in the advancement of Myanmar’s food production?
YE MIN AUNG: Japan has been supportive and has played an important role in developing nations around the world. In Myanmar, Japan has provided us with official development assistance, grants and aid, which has helped us get the ball rolling on production.
Moving forward, the best support would be the establishment of bilateral trade relations. Trades can improve the capacity of our institutions and promote opportunities for all stakeholders, ensuring inclusive growth for all. In fact, just recently in June 2013, MAPCO exported white rice from Myanmar to Japan for the first time in 50 years. This was a huge milestone, serving to reinforce the strategic alliance between Japan and Myanmar. We hope for more bilateral trades in the future, not only in rice, but also in other commodities as well.
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