The ethnic armed conflict in Myanmar is considered the longest civil war in the world. After decennia of repression, Myanmar is slowly moving towards democracy, but it will take time to lift people out of poverty and situation of food insecurity. In Myanmar, ICCO Cooperation works together with its partners on responsible and inclusive development, and on peace building and tolerance.

Country Office Myanmar

  • ACT Alliance House,
    No. 11 Kan Street, 10 Quarter,
    Hlaing Township, Yangon, Myanmar 

  • 56 million inhabitants
  • 135 different ethnic groups
  • 70% of the population depends on agriculture for the family income.

General Information

The central lowlands ringed by the steep highlands of Myanmar are bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. Myanmar counts 56 million inhabitants of 135 different ethnic groups, and is one of the least developed nations of South East Asia, ranking 150 out of 185 countries in the UNDP HDI index (UNDP’s HDI report, 2014). 

After the country’s independence from the British Commonwealth in 1948, the country came under military rule and dictatorship. Myanmar faced decades of repression, violent conflict, human rights violations, stagnation and isolation. The world was watching when the main opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) won the elections in 1990 and the junta placed NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest. Moreover, the armed conflict between the government’s armed forces and the ethnic armed groups in Myanmar is considered the longest civil war in the world, from 1959 up until today. The tensions have been and are especially high in Kachin State, Shan State, Kayin State and Kayah State, related to requests for self-determination and federalism. Additionally, there is the ongoing serious conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State.

In 2011, the first civilian government was installed with former Prime Minister U Thein Sein as president. Although most high ranked positions were occupied by former military leaders, U Thein Sein’s government initiated a series of political and economic reforms that opened the long isolated country. Reconciliation processes and negotiations worked towards a nation-wide ceasefire between the ethnic armed groups; legal reform was pursued towards a more liberal democracy; restrictions on freedom of press, association and civil society was diminished; and political prisoners – among them, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi - were released. Since 2012, foreign investments have been allowed bit by bit due to new investments laws. Furthermore, a new Anti-Corruption Law was enacted and financial institutions have been allowed for (limited) operations. These reforms have improved Myanmar’s human rights record and foreign political and economic relations. After decades of diplomatic, economic and military sanctions by the United States and European countries, the 2011 elections re-established their political and economic relationships. During the period of isolation, neighbouring countries like China and Thailand continued to have commercial ties with Myanmar, mainly investing in natural resources extraction. Myanmar served as a chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2014.

Due to the government’s reforms, Myanmar is slowly moving towards democracy. In November 2015, Myanmar had the first openly contested elections since 1962. Myanmar’s natural resources, its strategic location next to Asia’s fast growing economies, its cheap (and young) labour force and new foreign investments have been a major impulse for economic growth. However, it will take time before the Myanmar people experience the benefits from this new situation. For most of Myanmar’s inhabitants, living standards have not yet improved much and nearly one-third of the population lives in poverty. Myanmar’s history of isolation and conflict has left the country with widespread malnutrition, limited access to safe food and water, poor health facilities, low levels of education and high unemployment rates.

Themes in Myanmar

The programs of ICCO Cooperation in South East Asia connect and strengthen the interface between our two core principles: Securing Sustainable Livelihoods and Justice & Dignity for All. Together with our partners, ICCO Cooperation’s key intervention strategies in South East Asia focus on responsible business, inclusive markets, sustainable food production and food security, all with the aim to make sure that poor and marginalized men and women can lead secure, sustainable, just and dignified lives.

ICCO Cooperation believes that peace is needed to develop a sustainable economy in Myanmar. Therefore, ICCO's work focuses mainly on sustainable economic development in rural areas, as well as peace building and conflict resolution. We principally work in the agricultural sector, applying a cross-cutting focus on food security, ethnic minorities, youth and gender.

Expertise in Myanmar

ICCO Cooperation has been working with local partners in Myanmar since 2002. After cyclone Nargis in May 2008 ICCO’s programs and activities expended from emergency aid to human rights, democracy building and economic development. In the same period we also started to support refugees and internally displaced people along the border between Myanmar and Thailand.

The aim of our current program in Myanmar is to empower men, women and youth so they can fulfill their economic, social and civil rights. To successfully alleviate poverty, injustice and exclusion we cooperate with civil society stakeholders, with the public sector and the private sector. ICCO Cooperation follows a multi-stakeholder approach in which our partners work together for a common goal, based on the principles of co-responsibility and co-funding.   

In Myanmar, ICCO Cooperation South East Asia makes use of the following interlinked approaches and models:

Markets for the Poor (M4P)

The M4P approach aims to transform market structures by increasing the participation of the poor, and to make the market more beneficial and sustainable for them.

Value Chain Development (VCD)

We focus on empowering small scale producers and marginalized groups by connecting them to viable and sustainable value chains and its actors, to generate income and improve food security.

Public-Private Partnerships (PPP)

Our emphasis has always been on partnerships and cooperation. The PPP-model connects the resources and expertise of various sectors (governments, companies, knowledge institutes, ngo’s) when implementing entrepreneurial programs to eradicate poverty.

Business Incubation & Impact Investment

Through our investments programs, ICCO contributes to fair economic development in emerging economies. ICCO provides conditional capital (such as loans, equity and guarantees), by ‘blending’ financial instruments. Our Business Incubator Program (AgriBusiness Booster) provides capacity and capital to small and medium enterprises and farmer cooperatives, for them to grow and develop into strong and independent enterprises.

Business & Human Rights (BHR)

We work with local communities, private sector actors and governments to achieve a world where the private sector operationalizes its role as an important partner for development. We regard the United Nations Guiding Principles as an important guideline and framework to make the private sector comply with human rights.

Our projects in Myanmar

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