Market Analysis for Rural Livelihoods in Kayah State

Kayah state is Myanmar’s smallest state by size and population, yet boasts a wide range of economic development opportunities. The state’s seven townships are rich in natural resources, including mountainous areas of natural forest and fertile agricultural plains with access to irrigation water. Nestled between Shan and Kayin states and Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province; the state is well-suited to be part of various trade routes.

Following significant conflict-driven displacement in the 1990s, Kayah state continues to be impacted by armed conflict to the present day. Over 10,000 people are living in refugee camps just across the border in Thailand, and there are over 25,000 internally displaced people living throughout the state. While many of these refugees and displaced people are hesitant to return to their places of origin until a concrete peace settlement is achieved, The Border Consortium (TBC) has been working with them to support community-driven development and lay the foundation for their eventual voluntary return and reintegration. Supporting the development of small and medium sized enterprises by returnee entrepreneurs, especially women, is one of TBC priorities.

To examine the potential opportunities and constraints facing prospective returnee entrepreneurs, this market analysis of key economic sectors for rural livelihoods in Kayah state was produced as part of the Myanmar/Thailand component of the “I’m Prepared – Equality for Refugee Women in the Return-Reintegration Context” project. The “I’m Prepared” project is being implemented in Myanmar and Thailand by TBC in partnership with Australian NGO Act for Peace (A4P) with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs through the Gender Action Platform (GAP). This market analysis reveals that there are a range of potential business opportunities, as well as challenges, for prospective returnee entrepreneurs in rural Kayah state.

Interviews with TBC staff, Kayah-based GAP partner organizations and other key stakeholders in Loikaw were conducted to identify the most important economic sectors for rural livelihoods in Kayah state, as well as the ambitions and concerns of prospective returnee entrepreneurs. The key economic sectors selected for examination in this market analysis are: agriculture (cash crops); agriculture (value-added products); agriculture (livestock); fruit tree plantations and agroforestry; non-timber forest products; fisheries; handicrafts; garments and textiles; trade; hospitality; and tourism. These interviews were supplemented with desk research on the political economy of Kayah state and value chain assessments of the selected key economic sectors.
Initial value chain assessments for each sector give prospective entrepreneurs insights that will be beneficial when developing their business plans. A key finding cross-cutting the value chain assessments is that individual entrepreneurs would benefit from coordination with other entrepreneurs through producer’s groups and collectively-owned enterprises. An important goal of such coordination would be to enable returnee entrepreneurs to gain more power within the economic sector in which they are operating. Collectively-owned storage, transportation and distribution enterprises could enable entrepreneurs to work together to multiply their power in the market and improve the viability of their businesses.

Another key finding is that many prospective women entrepreneurs from Kayah state have specific criteria which influence their initial decision to even start a business. Key criteria for women entrepreneurs are: the ability to remain in their communities and homes (to take care of other responsibilities such as childcare, eldercare, etc.); the desire to secure official land tenure rights before investing in a business; the ability to continue engaging in subsistence agriculture (household gardening, etc.) at the same time as running a business; and a desire for business opportunities that are not capital intensive as they are debt averse.

Key success factors for women entrepreneurs include: accessing market insights into new crops to grow and value-added product ideas; gaining technological knowledge such as optimizing storage facilities and how to operate value-added production equipment; being able to take advantage of economies of scale; being able to time the sale of their produce to overcome volatile commodity prices and unscrupulous brokers; and strengthening networks among women’s groups in village tracts across the state. The Women’s Economic Groups established as part of the GAP project will be instrumental in sharing experience among entrepreneurs and facilitating networking at the village tract and township levels.

Key challenges facing prospective entrepreneurs in rural Kayah state include: lack of official land tenure rights; an oligopolistic structure in many economic sectors resulting in smallholder farmers and small business people having little power; lack of capital for investment and difficulties accessing financing; and a lack of skills training opportunities.

Below are a selection of recommendations that emerged from this market analysis. The purpose of the recommendations is to assist TBC and the GAP partners in their programming, advocacy work and to make linkages with government processes. Recommendations are grouped into five categories: Related to refugee return; Strengthening value chains; Strengthening business management capacities; and Strengthening food security.

Source: The Border Consortium

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