Pulse and bean sector moves on after India restricts imports

Myanmar has issued a blueprint to help its pulse and bean sector recover from a pullback in demand from India.

The blueprint comprises five strategies to help the sector cultivate alternative crops and develop new markets for its pulses and beans, including cooperating with the private sector, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Commerce U Toe Aung Myint said.

India, which saw a surge in production from its own pulse and bean sector, amended its import policy for the crops last month, deeply affecting the sector in Myanmar.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce, Myanmar exported 1.4 million tonnes of pulses and beans in the 2016-17 fiscal year, of which nearly 680,000 tonnes, or almost half, were exported to India. Almost all of Myanmar’s pigeon peas and 70pc of matpe, or black beans, was exported to India.

In response, a special coordination team was formed in August with personnel from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, the Ministry of Commerce, Myanmar Pulses, Beans and Sesame Seeds Merchants Association and some farmers to draw up a blueprint to help the sector.

The five strategies on that blueprint include negotiating for the smooth export of beans in response to India’s policy change, market expansion, growing other economically viable crops and raising local consumption of beans, said U Toe Myint Aung.

The five strategies have been set for now and these will be expanded as required, he said.

The crisis in the pulse and bean sector which followed India’ import restrictions should be viewed as an opportunity to expand Myanmar’s export markets, Director General of the Department of Agriculture U Ye Tin Tun said.

“The crisis is a wake-up call for us. We should use this crisis as an opportunity. If we can turn it to our advantage, we can be the fastest growing nation in ASEAN. We used to prioritise production. Now, we must focus on quality using technology. Our crops will be safer for consumers and give our farmers will gain good reputations,” U Ye Tin Tun said.

“Currently, our two major markets- India and China- do not care much about quality. So, our exporters take quality for granted. Whichever technology is given to them, they don’t care because regardless of the resulting quality, the price is the same. As such, our farmers have been weak in pursuing technology,” he said.

Other markets like Europe are different though. “Issues like insecticide residue must be cleared before our beans can enter Europe or Japan. So, we must educate the farmers on quality and using pesticide only when necessary,” U Ye Tin Tun said.

More importantly, if quality is improved, the prices of Myanmar’s bean exports will gradually stabilise. Myanmar currently exports mung beans to Japan, South Korea and Europe at K100,000-K150,000 per tonne.

Besides India, Myanmar also exports pulses and beans to China as well as Indonesia, Oman, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan Thailand and Europe in smaller quantities, said U Toe Myint Aung.

Switching crops may be difficult for bean farmers

Bean farmers are likely to face difficulties when substituting the cultivation of black beans, mung beans and pigeon peas with other crops, a meeting at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) attended by concerned government officials, the Myanmar Beans, Pulses and Sesame Seeds Merchants Association and some farmers on September 5 revealed.

Those difficulties include uncertain weather conditions and topography and whether or not there is demand for the new crops.

As such, a thorough study of which alternative crops to cultivate is necessary before taking action, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Commerce, U Toe Aung Myint said.

He added that it is necessary to ensure that farmers have sufficient knowledge of the demand trends and ensure the process is cost-effective before diving into the cultivation of unfamiliar crops.

In that light, the government will conduct a campaign to study the type of crops suitable as substitutions and educate farmers accordingly, Director General of the Department of Agriculture U Ye Tin Tun said.

For example, as black beans are being cultivated across a land area of1.6 million acres, it is questionable if other crops can be planted efficiently within the same space. Meanwhile, more workers may be needed to harvest different crops. As such, “crop replacement is easier said than done,” U Ye Tin TUn said.

Currently, chick peas, lentils, kidney beans, sugar cane and garden peas are being considered as alternative crops both for export purposes as well as domestic consumption.

U Tin Win, a bean farmer from Pakokku Town, has also suggested substituting with sunflower seeds and other beans.

Source : Myanmar Times