Towards a sustainable and inclusive agricultural economy in Myanmar

Agriculture is a central part of life in Myanmar as a major source of employment with 70% of the population active in the sector. Despite the size of the sector, agriculture only contributes to 25% of Gross Domestic Product and agricultural productivity in Myanmar is significantly lower when compared to many regional neighbours. However, the country itself holds substantial potential considering its favourable climate, water and land resources.

In an effort to better understand the reasons behind these realities, EuroCham Myanmar’s Agrobusiness Advocacy Group, in conjunction with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD), hosted the Agrobusiness Forum 2019 on the 12th of December in Nay Pyi Daw. The event was the first of its kind and was undertaken with the intention of providing an overview of the agriculture sector in Myanmar and taking a closer look at some of the key issues and challenges that confront its development.

Throughout the Agrobusiness Forum, participants learned about leading international standards and tools available to companies to implement good agricultural practices leading to enhanced sustainability, inclusivity, productivity and competitiveness. The Forum promoted sector collaboration, transparency and policy coherence by facilitating dialogue among agrobusiness stakeholders – including national and international enterprises, employers and workers – and policymakers in Myanmar.

Co-hosted and supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, Union Minister for MoALI DR AUNG THU underscored the need to “collaborate together, hand in hand with stakeholders to achieve our common goal” of modernising the agriculture sector and adopting international standards and regulations.

Under the title “Towards a sustainable and inclusive agricultural economy in Myanmar” the forum was able to provide a platform for agrobusiness representatives and Myanmar policymakers to openly discuss the implementation of agricultural best practises in the realms of import and export practises, land issues, technology and innovation,  access to finance,  and food safety.

A central theme that emerged from the conversations that took place was the need for more effective communication. Attending on behalf of the ILO was Deputy Liaison Officer Ms Piyamal Pichaiwongse, who highlighted the dynamism and opportunity that can be found in Myanmar’s agriculture sector. Key to this development is the relationship, Ms Pichaiwongse elaborated, between producer and consumer, and both play key roles in transmitting the information as to what expectations are and what benefits can be delivered, concluding that “without recognition of the problems, there is no way forward”.

This need for better communication can be applied to the market,suppliers and government departments. The lack of accurate information resultsin inefficiency,, duplication of roles and results in greater uncertainty for investors. Furthermore, within the private sector, there is a real need to communicate consumer demand to farmers so that they know not only what to produce but existing demand for higher quality products. The failure to do so has many subsequent effects as farmers are unaware of international food safety standards, secondary growing standards means crops are of lower quality which in turns means farmers find it more difficult accessing the necessary finance to grow their businesses and access new markets.

In expanding to new markets like those in Europe, and with the growing presence of international investors and companies in Myanmar, higher expectations are placed on the entire supply chain. It was in this context that OECD presented its Supply Chain Due Diligence Technical Session to assist enterprises to observe standards of responsible business conduct. Chaired by Ms SHIVANI KANNABHIRAN, the programme seeks to ensure that agriculture operations do not lead to adverse impacts and contribute to sustainable development. This pioneering project maintains a keen eye on the future of the sector and demonstrates the positive role foreign investment has on domestic standards and regulations.

EuroCham Myanmar is committed to continuing its work with the government and aims to work as an effective means of communication between the private and public sector, offering European expertise and best practise to the Myanmar market. The Agrobusiness Advocacy Group represents leading European agriculture companies operating in Myanmar and have the mandate to encourage the development of the sector in the spirit of mutual benefit.