Over the last five years (2011-2015) Myanmar has been engaged in a process of political and economic liberalization that will transform the country’s economy and society and see the nation emerge as an important economic entity in ASEAN and the wider regional and global economy.
After decades of isolation, and with the lifting of sanctions earlier imposed by Western countries, Myanmar is actively re-engaging with the global economy. At the same time, Myanmar’s rich natural resource base, abundant labor and strategic location wedged between India and China, make the country a very attractive destination for foreign investment. The potential for rapid growth and development is enormous. After more than five decades of stagnant and relative decline, the country is at a crucial juncture and seems to be on the verge of taking off as a new ‘tiger’ economy. Myanmar’s gross domestic product expanded by over 8 percent per year during the period 2010/11 to 2015/16. Over the same period agricultural GDP has expanded at an average growth rate of 3.2%.
While much of the initial interest has been in areas such as tourism, mining and gems, and infrastructure development, the opening and re-engagement with the global economy has also seen a growing interest in the development potential of the agricultural sector. Myanmar remains a largely agricultural and rural economy. Agriculture, livestock and fisheries account for about 28% of GDP and over two thirds of employment. Together these sectors are a key source of foreign exchange earning over $3.1 billion in 2015/2016 through exports of products such as pulses, rice, shrimp, livestock, and rubber.
Historically, Myanmar was a major exporter of rice, while in more recent times it has become an important exporter of pulses. In addition to annual crops (including oilseeds and vegetables), Myanmar also has an industrial crop sector that includes rubber, sugarcane, cotton, oil palm, coffee, and tea; fisheries (e.g. shrimp), and livestock (e.g. cattle and poultry). It has abundant natural resources including fertile and diverse agro-ecological land areas (the largest land area in continental Southeast Asia), water, forests, and a coastline of over 2000 km. Irrigated area covers about 16.2% of total sown area.
Experiences in other transition economies in South East Asia, such as Vietnam and Laos, as well as China, suggest that agriculture and the rural economy respond rapidly to economic reforms and can provide significant economic gains during the early stages of reform. However, while the potential for significant production and productivity gains in agriculture and the natural resources sector, including fisheries and forestry, is immense, Myanmar also faces some formidable challenges in realizing this potential. These challenges include a weak rural infrastructure; a range of complex land issues that remain largely unresolved; low agricultural productivity and competitiveness of agrifood products; an underfunded and poorly organized agricultural research, extension, and education system; weak coordination within the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation (MOAL)I, and between MOALI and other stakeholders; and vulnerability to natural disasters (floods, droughts, cyclones, sea level rise) and climate change.
Myanmar is amid major changes and several new ideas and approaches are being formulated. Given the ferment of ideas, strategies, and plans in circulation today, there is a growing need of clear direction among the agencies responsible for implementing policies and plans. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) which is the result of merging three Ministries (Agriculture and Irrigation; Livestock Fisheries and Rural Development; and Cooperatives) is in urgent need of restructuring. The existing plans of each former ministry need to be harmonized into the unified plan of one Ministry.
The Agricultural Development Strategy (ADS) aims to be an integrated and shared strategic document based on the considerable efforts made by the government, the private sector, civil society, and development partners in proposing various approaches to agricultural development. This strategy is the result of a process led by the Government with the participation of several stakeholders. The strategy aims at indicating clear priorities in the short, medium, and long term.
The development of the strategy is consistent with the existing strategic documents of the government, particularly with the recently developed Agricultural Policy. In fact, the Agricultural Development Strategy (ADS) is the basis for an operationalization of the Agricultural Policy. The implementation of the ADS requires an Investment Plan. The Investment Plan clarifies the results that need to be achieved by different stakeholders, their time line, and the activities to achieve the results. Each activity is costed and indicative funding sources are identified so that stakeholders have a better idea of the resources (financial, physical, human) required and the contribution of different funding sources.