Sowing the seeds of growth in Myanmar

Once the rice bowl of Asia, even today, agriculture continues to be a vital contributor to Myanmar’s economy.The sector provides employment to about 53 percent of the country’s labor force and is a source of livelihood for about 70 percent of the rural population.It also contributes almost 38 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, GDP.

Myanmar’s farms are well diversified, with most farms producing rice paddy during the monsoons and other crops such as beans, pulses, oilseeds and maize, during the cool and dry seasons.Yet, the country’s agricultural productivity is low, a key reason why farm profits are amongst the lowest in Asia. For example, to harvest rice, one day of work generates only 23 kg of paddy in Myanmar, compared to 62 kg in Cambodia, 429 kg in Vietnam, and 547 kg in Thailand.

This low productivity can be attributed to the dearth of quality seeds and lack of an enabling environment for the private sector, which can stimulate seed imports or production and multiplication of seeds.To give an example, the supply of certified paddy seeds is estimated to meet less than 10 percent of the demand. This limits the sector’s capacity to reduce poverty and contribute to the country’s shared prosperity. In addition, a limited legal framework makes it challenging to ensure quality control or promote new seed varieties.

Given the scenario, the need of the hour is to work towards seed registration, certification and licensing regulations in order to provide the country’s farmers with quality seeds. This will also attract private sector investment to increase production of selected certified seeds, helping create jobs. As markets grow hungrier, quality seeds can produce bigger harvests, resulting in increase of farmers’ income and access to new markets.

With this in mind, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, through the Department of Agriculture, has been making efforts to ensure that Myanmar can boost its agricultural productivity. Acknowledging that seeds are a crucial factor behind increasing yields and farmers’ income, the government is keen to facilitate private sector investment in seed production.

‘The Road Map for Myanmar’s Seeds Sector: 2017-2020’is a significant effort in this direction. The report estimates that farmers have access to less than 10 percent of certified rice seeds and less than 1 percent of certified seeds of other crops. In response, in 2017,the government passed a new regulation, allowing100 percent foreign ownership of seeds businesses (earlier the limit was 40 percent).

Further, with technical support from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, a series of regional and national consultations were conducted. Key stakeholders from the public and private sector, along with development partners, discussed and proposed recommendations for the improvement of Myanmar’s seed sector.

Subsequently, the National Seeds Committee (NSC) approved 10 regulatory and administrative recommendations that emerged from the consultations. Consequently, the main reforms that are being implemented are:

Issuance of only three types of Seed Business Licenses: field, horticulture, and industrial crops. Earlier, one business license for every single seed variety was mandatory, accounting for over 900 different licenses;

The NSC now meets four times a year instead of every 15 months on average since it was founded in December 2000. About 71 applications are analyzed by the NSC per meeting, and approximately 47 new varieties are registered. This is a faster and more efficient process and will reduce cost and time private firms have to wait to get a new variety registered and make it available on the market;

Exemption of field testing for four priority crops: potato, papaya, onion, and cucumber. Also, the requirement to test seeds during one entire season in three different geographical locations has been removed;

Inclusion of a private sector representative in the Technical Seeds Committee to ensure that the industry is consulted and is aware of government policies and actions in the seed sector;

Establishment of a one-stop-shop and automation of all seeds related processes and procedures including seed business licensing, variety registration, and seed imports and exports, which will be launched later this year;

Establishment of a holistic Myanmar Seed Information Portal. This facility—launched in December last year—allows the public to consult a list of registered varieties and also provides relevant information to anyone interested in Myanmar’s seed sector, including forms, etc.

With these reforms, the country will be creating a more favorable business environment for foreign and domestic seed companies in Myanmar. These new changes also create a balance between efficient markets and effective regulations, enabling the public and private sector to work together seamlessly.

Looking ahead, developing high-quality and climate resilient seeds that are available on the market under a strong legal framework would benefit farmers significantly. At the same time, it will also bolster Myanmar’s agriculture sector.

This will prepare the sector to respond to global market opportunities and better participate in the value chain. Subsequently, a vibrant and competitive seed sector will contribute to the nation’s food security and economic growth.

Source: Myanmar Times

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