Myanmar is undergoing a period of remarkable political, economic and social change. After decades of isolation and instability, the country has been partially transformed by three unprecedented reform efforts: a transition to democracy; economic liberalisation; and nationwide peace negotiations… [Myanmar] is the largest country by land area in mainland South East Asia, has significant natural resources and a young population. It is strategically positioned between two of the world’s fastest growing economies (China and India). Myanmar is increasingly active in the region and was Chair of ASEAN in 2014. International interest and engagement in Myanmar has surged. Myanmar has significant potential to benefit from closer integration with global markets through trade liberalisation.
—Aid Investment Plan, Myanmar, 2015 to 2020 (DFAT)
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in mainland South-East Asia, but is slowly developing after decades of rule by an oppressive military regime.
The military junta handed over power to a new government and Myanmar returned to full civilian rule in 2016, after openly-contested general elections in November 2015. The government has released many political prisoners, relaxed media censorship and provided for greater political participation, labour rights and freedom of expression since 2011.
Myanmar still faces significant obstacles to development. More than a third of Myanmar’s population are poor, more than a third of children are chronically malnourished, and barely half the children complete five years of primary school. Decades of conflict and instability have displaced more than 640,000 people in Myanmar, and its border regions have the highest numbers of refugees in our region.
Government capacity is low, systems are weak, and Myanmar is one of the hardest places in the world to do business, although this is improving. Myanmar must overcome a weak private sector and inadequate government capacity to become a diversified, outward-oriented market economy. Then it will be able to sustain its development.
Myanmar could become a global food supplier. It is one of the world’s largest exporters of pulses, and could produce and export many other crops. To reach its potential, it must intensify its agricultural growth and make farms more productive and competitive.
In 2015/16, Myanmar exported more than US$3 billion worth of agricultural produce. Agriculture generated 24% of the GDP and 24.6% of export earnings in 2016, despite devastating floods.
The largely agricultural country has abundant arable land, forests, natural resources, minerals, gas, oil and freshwater and marine products. About 75% of the population reside in rural areas and work in cropping, livestock, and fishery and forestry. The most important crop is rice, worth 80% of the value of sector production. Smallholder mixed fishing and livestock systems dominate agriculture, but livestock and fisheries are also important.
An estimated 37.5% of its population of 51.4 million are poor. 85% of Myanmar’s poor live in the countryside, where poverty rates are twice as high as in urban areas. Although World Bank research shows that poverty has declined between 2009–2010 and 2015, many people live near the poverty line and are sensitive to economy-wide shocks.
Rural women are among Myanmar's most marginalised groups. They are highly vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty. Myanmar is also one of the countries in the region most vulnerable to climatic and other natural disasters (including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis).
Australia’s bilateral relationship with Myanmar started in 1952. Australia’s development assistance program in Myanmar reflects its growing engagement with the Government of Myanmar (GOM). Under the DFAT Aid Investment Plan 2015–2019, Australian aid supports Myanmar's reforms through investing in education and inclusive economic growth, particularly through helping it to work with business and to manage natural resources.
The Australian Government will provide an estimated $59.8 million in total ODA to Myanmar in 2016-17.
Myanmar’s new government has economic objectives that give paramount importance to agriculture. They are committed to agriculture and want to improve rural productivity. The major agricultural objectives are to fulfil food security, increase foreign exchange through increased exports of agricultural products, and improve rural incomes.
ACIAR has developed a multidisciplinary program, in collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and in consultation with Myanmar counterparts, donors and potential research providers. This program supports the Myanmar Government’s goals on agricultural development and is consistent with Australia’s strategic objective on inclusive economic growth. This long term country strategy should be finalised in 2017/18. Research priorities are:
- producing more food and increasing cash incomes of rural households in the Central Dry Zone and Ayeyarwady Delta through improving and adopting production and post-harvest technologies in agriculture, including livestock and fisheries;
- building capacity for agriculture, livestock and fisheries research development and extension through program activities, and post-graduate and short-term training; and
- providing technical assistance and advice to relevant GOM departments for policy strengthening.
The program aims to meet the immediate needs of Myanmar’s vulnerable people. It will also build capacity for both people and institutions, as many of Myanmar’s agricultural scientists have been isolated from international co-operation over recent years. ACIAR signed Memoranda of Understanding with the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries in June 2013 and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in November 2013 to implement the program.
Future research priorities will be:
- develop a sustainable pro-poor beef industry and policy
- produce grain legumes, including breeding and mechanised harvesting of mungbean
- diversify and intensify rice-based cropping systems to increase overall productivity and farm income
- land evaluation and resource management will improve planning and management for productive and resilient landscapes
- develop smallholder and community aquaculture, and better manage the Ayeyarwady River and Delta fisheries
- smallholder livestock-based cattle enterprises in the central dry zone
- help farmers in the central dry zone and Ayeyarwady Delta regions to adopt promising technologies, by providing institutional capacity and extension services.