Growth and Transformation in Off- Farm Segments of the Maize Value Chain in Shan State


December 9, 2019 - Ame Cho and <>

Ame Cho and Ben Belton, 2019. Growth and Transformation in Off- Farm Segments of the Maize Value Chain in Shan State. Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research Paper 156.


This report details results from the first representative sample-based study of maize traders and agricultural input suppliers conducted in Myanmar. We interviewed 109 input suppliers and 218 traders in twelve of the major maize growing and trading townships of southern Shan State, and the cities of Lashio and Muse in northern Shan. The following results stand out:

The supply of agricultural inputs in South Shan is increasing extremely rapidly. The average quantity of maize seed sold by individual trading and input supply businesses grew by around 50% since 2013. Fertilizer sales have also increased sharply. The number of agricultural input suppliers selling pesticides and herbicides has grown quickly since the mid-2000s. In contrast to input suppliers, however, comparatively few traders sell pesticides or herbicides.

The maize seed market is diversifying as it grows. CP dominates supply, but its market share is shrinking. Input providers are not restricted to selling inputs supplied by any single company and the number of brands and varieties of seed stocked is increasing. The market for fertilizer is relatively mature, with suppliers stocking more brands and types of fertilizer than maize seed.

Less than 40% of maize seed and fertilizer is supplied in the form of in-kind credit. Sixty-one percent of maize seed and 63% of fertilizer was paid for in cash. Cash sales accounted for around half the volume of maize seed and fertilizer sold by traders and three-quarters of the maize and fertilizer sold by input suppliers.

Interest rates paid by farmers on in-kind credit have fallen sharply since 2013, from 4.5% per month in 2013 to 3.0% per month in 2018. The interest paid on a seed pack purchased using an average duration in-kind loan would amount less than one-quarter of its value. Less than half of maize seed suppliers report charging any form of interest on maize seed provided as credit in-kind.

Traders and input suppliers receive most of their information about agriculture via word of mouth and private sector marketing activities. Facebook and government extension agents are also important sources of information for traders and input suppliers, respectively. NGOs and traditional media provide very little business information to these enterprises.

The number of enterprises in the maize value chain has grown quickly since 2013. The estimated number of maize traders operating in surveyed townships grew 71%, from 231 to 395, and numbers of agricultural input suppliers grew 69%, from 113 to 191. Numbers of businesses providing logistics (transport), maize drying services, agricultural machinery and animal feed supply also increased.

Ownership of business assets has increased dramatically since 2013. In 2018, the vast majority of traders (≥85%) owned mobile phones, motorbikes, bagging machines and manual scales. Around half of traders owned generators, electronic scales, or 4 to 6-wheel trucks.

The volume of maize procured by traders in our sample nearly doubled in the past five years. The total volume of maize purchased annually jumped from 486,364 t to 943,530 t (94%). The degree of concentration among traders (measured as the Gini coefficient of total maize procured) decreased from 0.72 in 2013, to 0.62 in 2018, apparently driven by growing sales from medium sized traders.

Traders procure most maize directly from farmers. Farmer sales contributed 78% of the maize procured, indicating relatively low levels of intermediation and low dependence on small village level collectors. Three-quarters of maize traders are wholesalers (obtaining profit from arbitrage). The average markup earned by wholesalers after deducting operating costs is 4.3% of the purchase price.

Traders are taking increasing measures to improve the quality of maize traded. Between 2013 and 2018 the share of traders drying maize in the open air or drying maize using a machine increased from 69% to 73% and from 5% to 11%, respectively. The share of traders using digital moisture meters or maize cleaning machines increased from 28% to 47% and 9% to 19%, respectively.

Most traders utilize formal financial institutions. Over two-thirds of traders received payment from buyers by bank transfer. Banks are an increasingly important source of credit for traders. One-third of traders reported having borrowed working capital in the past year. Of these, almost half took bank loans. Yoma Bank, which offers a loan scheme designed specifically for traders, is the most popular of these, providing loans to 30% of traders who borrowed from any source. The average value of loans taken by traders within the past 12 months was MMK 110 million ($73,600).

The average size of vehicles used to transport maize has increased over the past five years. The share of deliveries made using 22 to 24-wheel trucks grew from 9% to 36% of all deliveries over the period 2013 to 2018. These have taken the place of deliveries by 10 to 18-wheel trucks.

There is very little loss of maize between time of procurement and time of sale. Losses of maize during trading amounted to just 0.18% of the total volume procured.

CP factories procure twice as much maize as all other feed factories combined. Sales of maize to CP account for 13% of total sales by traders, while other factories only account for 7%. The share of maize sold to feed factories is higher in South Shan (29%) than North Shan (3%).CP factories have higher quality standards than other buyers.

Closure of the China border to maize exports impacted 82% of traders. Nearly all-overland trade in maize from North Shan to China is informal, and is subject to periodic closure due to anti-smuggling campaigns. The most recent of these was particularly severe, beginning a few weeks prior to the survey in October 2019, and continuing for several months afterward.

Implications for policy and programming. In sum, these findings indicate that upstream and midstream segments of the maize value chain in Shan State are growing and transforming rapidly. They are becoming more competitive and more inclusive, and show early signs of modernization, formalization and the emergence of forms of conduct intended to produce higher quality goods. As such, there are relatively few areas where intervention is necessary or desirable, but the following stand out:

  • Formal imports of maize from Myanmar into China are subject to high tariffs, leading to informal cross border trade to evade them. Periodic crack-downs on informal trade are a major cause of price volatility and unpredictability for traders and farmers in Myanmar. Securing a bilateral agreement on export quotas could help to address this issue, and government efforts to do so should be prioritized. Investment in technologies that facilitate long term storage of maize grain by traders or farmer groups could also help to smooth out troughs in demand.
  • Rapid increases in pesticide and herbicide use have potentially negative implications for environmental and human health. Strengthening existing regulation and regulatory enforcement of the sale and use of these products, and supporting and expanding ongoing efforts by government and development partners to provide safety training and information for farmers should be a priority.
  • The marketing activities of agricultural input companies are important conduits for delivering information to traders and agricultural input supply businesses, who pass information to their customers. Forging closer partnerships between government, development partners and input suppliers can provide opportunities to disseminate extension messages and materials to large numbers of end users.
  •  The terms of informal credit provision by traders and input suppliers are not exploitative, but the cost of borrowing informally remains several times higher than subsidized borrowing from Myanmar Agricultural Development Bank (MADB). Relatively few Shan farmers are able to access loans from MADB. Innovative approaches to delivering formal agricultural credit to farmers at scale are therefore required.
  •  The success Yoma Bank’s efforts to provide working capital loans to traders, and high levels of trader enrolment in the formal banking sector, indicate that there is considerable potential to expand delivery of formal financial services to enterprises in agricultural supply chains.



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