Agriculture remains at the heart of Burmese society. The sector provides employment to approximately two thirds of its population, and accounts for roughly 58% of the county’s GDP and 48% of its exports. Myanmar’s primary agricultural produce is rice which accounts for approximately 60% of the country’s total cultivated land area and for approximately 97% of total food grain production by weight.
Like other sectors, agriculture in Myanmar has suffered greatly as a result of the country’s international isolation. State investment in agriculture and food sciences and technology has been strictly limited. As a result the sector is need of reform and modernization. Lending to the farming sector remains inadequate. The Myanmar Agriculture Development Bank, which was established to promote agricultural, livestock and rural economic enterprises, has been providing increased funding to famers however there remains serious problems relating to indebtedness insolvency and illiquidity.
As part of its reform initiatives the government introduced the Farmland Law and the Vacant, Fallow, and Virgin Land Management Law. These two pieces of legislation are expected to form the legal framework for the country’s land reform. Pursuant to the new laws the state remains the ultimate owner of all land. However farmers can now transfer or mortgage their land to repay their loans. An independent Central Farmland Management Body (“CFMB”) has been established to ensure compliance with the new regulations. The CFMB has the transfer or revoke the right to work farmland, and undertake land evaluations for various reasons. It operates under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and will have central, regional and village offices.
Myanmar’s subtropical climate and rich soil provide are conducive to the growth and cultivation of over 60 crops from rice and sugarcane in the central belt to vegetables in the more temperate zones in the north. Arable land represents about a quarter of the country’s total land mass of which approximately half is currently being cultivated. Myanmar’s geographic location between Southeast Asia, China and the Indian sub-continent places it at a gateway to a potential market of 2 billion consumers. If it can overcome the challenges ahead Myanmar will be on course to develop a dynamic, open, productive and diversified rural sector.
The regulatory framework for food regulations and standards in Myanmar was established by the 1997 National Food Law (“NFL”). Pursuant to the NFL the Myanmar Food and Drug Board Authority (“MFDBA”) was created. The MFDBA is responsible for regulating the quality of production together with the sale, advertisement, classification and trading of food. Myanmar typically attempts to conform to the standards set out by the ASEAN Codex Committee which is the regional body responsible for implementing international food standards.
The liberalisation of Myanmar’s economy is likely to present numerous opportunities in food production, processing, research and technology, packaging and distribution industries among others. The sector stands to benefit from investment from international investment particularly in the value added services. The sector will also be boosted through the completion of infrastructure projects such as the deep-sea port and industrial estates in Dawei which will provide a gateway to the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.