Organic Farming Vs Commercial Farming in Myanmar

Myanmar needs to rethink its agricultural strategy if it wants to be a successful agricultural export nation. Past farming policy also needs to be reviewed in light of today’s challenges and tomorrow’s possibilities.

In our study on organic farming in Myanmar we interviewed companies that market organic rice, organic medicine, organic fruits and organic vegetables. We wanted to understand if Myanmar is able to carve a niche out for itself for organic produce in the world market.

There are some companies in Yangon that had the semblance of a marketing organisation structure and were able to address the need of expats and foreigners.

The first one was an organic vegetables and fruits store in Bahan Township that catered mainly to expats and rich people living in that area.

We spoke to the proprietor about the size of the organic food market in Myanmar. She said that currently her sales is restricted to what she can sell in her shop and occasionally what she can sell at organic marts that are organises on weekend in other parts of Yangon.

We found that she is selling her organic vegetables and fruits at a premium of 15 percent from those sold in supermarket chain in Yangon. Her definition of organic is the vegetables were tested to have chemicals below a certain level by the Pesticide Analytical Department of the Ministry of Agriculture.

When asked if she is able to export her organic produce to overseas markets she said that transportation infrastructure is very poor in Myanmar. For example, some traders have remarked that it is more expensive to ship rice from the Ayeyarwaddy Delta to Yangon than it is to send the rice from Yangon to Singapore. “Shipping with good infrastructure and special equipment is very expensive. Normally exporting vegetables and fruits require air freight” said the proprietor.

The second firm was a local conglomerate that owns over 100 acres of agricultural land of which only 20 percent of which are utilised for farming. The director of the company indicated that the market for premium organic vegetables and fruits are still small here in Myanmar.

When asked why he did not think of exporting his organic produce overseas he said that “in Myanmar, we have facilities, land and agronomists. We have everything except we don’t have the knowledge of foreign markets. We need joint venture partners who can not only act as liaison between our company and the major foreign market, but also advise us.”

In a country where the minimum wage is K3,600 a day which works out to a monthly salary of $100 on average – premium organic fruits and vegetables have a small market.

As the consumers for premium organic produce are health conscious and fastidious, the freshness of the product, the integrity of the growing process and the speed and efficiency of the supply chain are very important.

If Myanmar wants to pull an estimated 30 million farmers, about 60 percent of the population, out of poverty focusing on organic farming for the export is not the answer as it is a small market globally and the preconditions to be successful in this segment are just too high for Myanmar at the moment.

Agricultural productivity in Myanmar for rice production is the lowest in Asia, according to a World Bank report titled “Myanmar: Analysis of Farm Production Economics”.

Low productivity is attributable to several factors, many can be attributed to poor supply of quality public services such as agricultural research, extension of relevant scientific information to rural farming communities and a lack of rural infrastructure such as transportation and financing. The delivery of many of these essential services the government play a key role in delivering.

Myanmar farmers do not have access to supply of quality certified seeds which is the output of rigorous agricultural research. Despite growing two mixed crops in a year farming income is still very low and most farming households are living below poverty line.

We believe that for Myanmar agriculture to move forward there need to be an agricultural policy revamp. Commercial farming that are market driven, supported by agricultural research and mass production techniques need to be used.

Commercial farming need not be harmful to the environment if it is done in a sustainable way. We define sustainability as the ability of the current generation to provide for itself without damaging the ability of future generations to provide for itself. Through agricultural research and technology we can find out what is the optimum amount of fertilisers and pesticides to use in growing crops that will enable optimum growth at different stages in the growing cycle while minimising the effects of harmful chemicals getting into the soils, ground water and onto crops. Investment also need to be made in infrastructure and custom clearance process to enable fresh fruits and vegetables to reach its export market quickly without delay.

Large scale commercial farming is only possible if there is government leadership together with appropriate participation from foreign companies that understand foreign export markets for agricultural products in major countries such as the US, China and India. The result should be to generate employment, export earnings and in the process modernising the farming industry in Myanmar in a sustainable manner.

With its vast fertile land and its hard working people Myanmar has the potential to become the fruit basket of Asia if it is able to marshal its resources together. The future is bright but hard work, persistence and an open mind is required to make it happen.

About the author:
Ruth Nyun is a graduate from University of Wollongong (Australia). The above article is part of a research project that Ruth was involved in during her internship at Consult-Myanmar Co Ltd in Yangon.
This article appeared in the Myanmar Business Today journal of 28/6/2016. To read the full article go to

Source: Myanmar Business Today

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