Foreign investment into lagging agriculture and fisheries sectors urgently needed: exporters

The next government should urgently seek investment in the country’s lagging and underfunded agricultural and fisheries sector, to help halt and reverse the decline in exports, traders said.

Of the US$38.18 billion received in foreign investment over the past five years, a bare $208 million has been ploughed into agriculture, according to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration.

Most of that has gone into fisheries products, fertiliser production and related services.

“About 70 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture and livestock. No improvement has been made to these sectors despite greater market opportunities,” U Win Kyaing, general secretary of Myanmar Fisheries Association, told The Myanmar Times.

“We need robust policies and systematic performance improvement to encourage foreign investment.”U Ye Min Aung, general secretary of the Myanmar Rice Federation, said his members hoped the incoming government would adopt policies to boost both local and foreign investment.

“The key is land-use policy. The government should also expand market opportunities. International investors will come when they see the advantages of higher production and a stable market,” he said.

Simplification of government structure would help, he said. Fisheries and livestock come under the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development, and agriculture is handled by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation.

Merging the two government departments now responsible for the sector, which has received virtually no foreign investment despite accounting for over half of the economy, could be a good first step, he said.

“In most countries, cultivating and livestock breeding come under the same department. In Myanmar, there is a division of responsibilities. It would make sense to merge them in a single unit.”

Exported fisheries products come both from the wild and from fish farms. Production from natural fisheries has been declining since 2013, while 60pc of fish, shrimp and crab farms across the country have been plagued by a lack of funds. Since exports hit a peak of $680 million in 2013, export income has been declining, said U Win Kyaing.

“This year livestock breeding is declining, and income may fall below $400 million. But foreign investment could reverse the trend,” he said.

Rice and pulses are major exports. Pulses production has been falling, though rising prices last year brought in $800 million from the exportation of 900,000 metric tonnes of all types of pulses. The figure was nearly 40,000mt less than that of 2013-2014, even though it brought in nearly $200 million more.

In 2014-2015 the export of more than 1.8 million metric tonnes of rice earned $644 million. But Thailand and Vietnam export 10 times as much, according to the Myanmar Rice Federation.

U Ye Min Aung said, “[The outgoing government] has spent the past five years amending the relevant laws, but had no time to implement them. All the new government has to do is to set out policies based on those laws.”

Since 1988, total foreign investment has amounted to $58 billion, of which the agriculture and livestock sector has received just $242 million, says DICA.

Source: Myanmar Times

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