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Myanmar commits to sustainable agriculture and partnerships for change

MYANMAR - This month the expanding Grow Asia team has been co-hosting annual General Meetings for four of our five Country Partnerships, in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. The Myanmar Agricultural Network (MAN) meeting took place last week. While in Myanmar I had the privilege of joining a field trip with our partner East-West Seed to meet smallholder farmers and better understand some of the challenges they face, and the positive change being made.

Insights from the MAN General Meeting

Over 120 people attended the MAN General Meeting, including two Ministers and four members of Parliament. Around 20% were from Myanmar’s government, 55% from private agribusinesses and the remaining 25% were a range of other development partners, including NGOs, research organizations and farmer groups, all of which showed strong support and endorsement of MAN’s activities. The exceptional energy during the discussions was a reminder of the passion of the leaders in Myanmar’s agriculture sector. The discussions also highlighted a number of challenges.

There were two common factors in the speeches given by Myanmar’s Ministers of Agriculture; Commerce; and the Permanent Under Secretary - the central role of agriculture and the importance of change. Both the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Aung Thu, and the Minister of Commerce, U Than Myint, see the agricultural sector as the driver of sustainable growth in Myanmar. The strategy involves reducing the reliance on raw materials and instead developing a vibrant agriculture system as an alternative source of exports. Much change is needed to achieve this goal. Insufficient research and development, an under-developed logistics system, and poor communications between producers and the public and private sectors all serve as challenges to Myanmar.

Grow Asia is playing a critical role by providing a platform for multiple stakeholders to connect and co-develop solutions, such as technology for smallholder farmers. It was encouraging to hear Minister U Than Myint say how Grow Asia’s mission has resonated with him. We at Grow Asia believe there will be many opportunities for the partnership to support Myanmar’s growth strategy, particularly through a re-energized MAN.

Impact in the field: vegetable farmers become debt-free

What truly invigorated me was seeing the changes taking place on the ground. My field trip with East-West Seed allowed me to see the extraordinary work they have been doing supporting smallholders. This support has allowed them to become more profitable through the introduction of new production techniques and new crops. Most importantly, hearing the stories of seven farmers first hand – three of which had got out of debt with the increased profits from the new program – has emphasized the tangible effect our work has.

Myanmar faces large obstacles, with unforeseen factors such as the recent floods wreaking havoc and exacerbating the agriculture sectors’ challenges. However, the combination of sound plans and the concrete improvements seen on the ground makes me believe that the future is bright in Myanmar.

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