A Strategic Agricultural Sector and Food Security Diagnostic for Myanmar

July 1, 2013 - Author: Team leader: S. Haggblade. External team: D. Boughton, G. Denning, R. Kloeppinger-Todd, K. Mar Cho, S. Wilson, and L. C. Y. Wong. MDRI team: Z. Oo, T. Maung Than, N. Eh Mwee Aye Wai, N. Wah Win, and T. Min Sandar

IDWP 131. Prepared for USAID/Burma by Michigan State University (MSU) and the Myanmar Development Resource Institute’s Center for Economic and Social Development (MDRI/CESD). Team leader: Steven Haggblade. External team members: Duncan Boughton, Glenn Denning, Renate Kloeppinger-Todd, Khin Mar Cho, Shannon Wilson, and Larry C. Y. Wong. MDRI team members: Zaw Oo, Tin Maung Than, Naw Eh Mwee Aye Wai, Ngu Wah Win, and Tun Min Sandar. 2013. A Strategic Agricultural Sector and Food Security Diagnostic for Myanmar.

Despite its enormous potential, Myanmar’s agriculture has underperformed over the past fifty
years. Today, per capita earnings in agriculture average roughly $200 a year, one-half to onethird
of the levels achieved by its regional peers. Given that two-thirds of the population
works primarily in agriculture, low farm productivity translates into high rates of poverty and
food insecurity. Currently, about one quarter of the population falls below the national
poverty line. As a result, in spite of national rice self-sufficiency, food security for many
households and individuals remains elusive. Poor households spend over 70% of their
income on food. In addition, fully one-third of rural households borrow at some point during
the year in order to purchase food. Even after shouldering this heavy financial burden, up to
one-half of rural households report having to navigate two months each year without
adequate food supplies, leaving one-third of the country’s children stunted.

Why has Myanmar’s agricultural sector performed so poorly? As in other sectors of the
economy, ongoing ethnic civil war and violence over the past 60 years, coupled with
international isolation, have discouraged private investments and hindered the exchange of
technology and know-how. Within the agricultural sector, a series of institutional, policy and
structural constraints has hampered agricultural growth and contributed to Myanmar’s current
high rates of hunger and malnutrition. The most critical of these problems include: • a highly
skewed land distribution, which leaves roughly half of rural households landless, • poor water
control systems in the presence of global climate change and increasingly unpredictable
rainfall, • a high-cost transportation system, • weak rural financial institutions, • unpredictable
government policies, • low public investments in agricultural research, and • weak links
between extension services and farmers. Fortunately for the two-thirds of Myanmar citizens
who work in agriculture, all of these impediments can be remedied through good policies,
institutional reforms and key public investments.


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