Japan key to helping Myanmar farmers

Myanmar agricultural experts have expressed amazement by a high level of fertiliser produced in Japan, saying that if Myanmar farmers could afford to use such fertiliser, rather than the China-made one they currently use, they could significantly increase rice output and produce rice of higher quality.

When the experts watched fertiliser manufacturing process during a visit on Aug 25 to a plant in Chiba Prefecture of Katakura Chikkarin Co as part of a study mission to Japan, they voiced hope that Japan will build plants in Myanmar and provide farmers with effective fertiliser.

Along with richer fertiliser, the introduction of advanced rice milling, storage and post-harvest technology, as well as the expansion of irrigation systems are key to boosting competitiveness in Myanmar’s farm sector in its quest to become a major rice-exporting country like neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, they said.

“We need technology. For example, we can grow rice twice and even three times a year if irrigation facility is available for more farmers,” Myo Kywe, vice-rector at Yezin Agricultural University in Naypyitaw, said in Tokyo after wrapping up the weeklong mission Aug 26.

Myanmar rice exports are estimated to total 1.30 million tonnes in 2014, up from 1.16 million tonnes in 2013, according to the US Department of Agriculture. But the figures lag behind Myanmar’s target of exporting 4 million tonnes of rice in 2020.

Myanmar’s rice is exported mainly to comparably low-end markets such as Africa, Bangladesh, China and India.

“But farmers in our country cannot afford to invest,” Myo Kywe said. “The government needs to give them incentives such as subsidies, machinery and fertiliser. We would like countries like Japan and foreign investors to help us develop the agriculture sector, as well.”

During the mission, 19 Myanmar officials and agricultural industry leaders held meetings with Japanese experts on agricultural technology and toured the Tsukuba plant of farm equipment manufacturer Kubota Corp and Satake Corp, a rice-processing equipment maker in Hiroshima Prefecture, among other institutions, to learn advanced technology and innovation.

The mission was funded by the Japanese government and organised by the Asian Productivity Organization, a Tokyo-based regional development body that groups 20 economies.

Mitsuo Nakamura, a programme officer at the Agriculture Department of the APO, hailed the Myanmar experts’ eagerness to learn from Japan and said most of the Japanese companies and research institutions they visited showed interest in conducting research and business in an emerging, yet untapped market in Myanmar.

As rice production is a source of livelihoods for about 70% of Myanmar’s population, an increase in rice exports and farmers’ income is likely to help reduce poverty in the country, whose per-capita gross domestic product is the lowest among Asean.

In the latest step to help Myanmar boost rice output, the Japanese government on Sept 5 offered up to 14.87 billion yen in low-interest loans for an irrigation project in the Bago region, north of Yangon.

Japanese officials called for increased government-private sector tie-ups in raising competitiveness in Myanmar’s rice industry, saying official development assistance alone is not sufficient to achieve such a goal.

Citing the need to modernise Myanmar’s milling sector, which operates with obsolete processing units that cause about 15% to 20% losses in quality and quantity during the milling, the World Bank said the country’s average paddy yields of 2.5 tonnes per hectare are only half of those realized by other exporters in the region.

“Myanmar has the potential to more than double its rice exports by diversifying and increasing rice production, opening its rice milling sector to direct foreign investments, and reducing export procedure costs, and thereby helping many rural poor to escape poverty,” the bank said in a report on Myanmar’s rice export strategy.


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