As Myanmar is an agro-based country, more than 65% of household rely on income from the production and sale of agricultural commodities and work as farmers or daily labours. Mostly, rural population depends on the agricultural sector as agriculture constitutes one-third of Myanmar GDP and rice, oilseed crops, and pulses play a dominant role in the country. Although Myanmar has been considered as a food surplus country at the national level due to its self-sufficient in rice, access to sufficient food remains a challenge for half of the population, particularly for the landless farmers, ethnic minorities, women, children, the elderly and the disabled, the poorest and displaced people. Among four dimensions of food security, food availability and accessibility are still limited in rural areas due to the uneven distribution of resources, low investments in key sectors, poor production practices or market failures and low income. Utilization and stability of food security are under development because food insecurity is linked with poverty, malnutrition, health care and economic growth of the country.
Extreme poverty and malnutrition are major obstacles to food security in the country. About half of the population is under poverty and challenges for food security is to provide adequate, safe, diversified and nutrient-rich foods needed for healthy diets. Risky practices in food production, processing, storage distribution, food preparation and consumption lead to infections and diseases. The unsafe use of chemical fertilizers and pesticide residues together with the population displacements from conflict and natural disasters cause food and nutrition insecurity. This paved the way to the reduction of quality production of crops and lead to instability in economic growth of the country then, became the greatest challenge facing the community. Livestock and fishery remains an underdeveloped policy area while agricultural growth is hampered by the misguided policies and state-controlled markets. The location of the country cause it to suffer from natural disaster such as cyclones, landslides, earthquakes and droughts. Due to these challenges, food security became an increased concern for the government and is needed to securitize for the physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for a healthy life to all people at all time.
Policies of the government to address food security in Myanmar
Myanmar government focused on the implementation of rice policy since independence period as rice is the staple food for the country. With the change to a democratic country, U Thein Sein administration made economic reform mainly focused to increase rice export while maintaining domestic food security. The government conducted National Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (2011-2015) including short-term (2 years) and mid-term (5 years) plan to ensure adequate access to, and utilization of food that is safe, adequate and well-balanced on a long term basis in order to enhance the physical and mental development of the people of Myanmar. Improving food availability and accessibility were the strategic objectives of the government between 2011 and 2015 by stabilizing food supplies programme, improving economic access to food and resources for all people. Laws and policies regarding the agriculture, livestock and fishery, health and nutrition, and social welfare were not fully laid down at the national level, but there were some at sub-regional level. Although the government ratified “Protecting Rights and Enhancing Welfare of Farmers Law” and Microfinance Law, the provisions for the small-holder farmers to get access to the market were still controversial and ambiguous. Farmers lost their land use rights and were dependent on small livestock farming and fishing to supplement diets and get a proper life.
The vision for the agriculture and food security changed with a change to new NLD government. The aim of the NLD government is set in line with SDG goal 2, which is an inclusive, sustainable and increasingly productive and resilient agricultural sector, providing access to safe and nutritious food for all people; rising income for rural population, particularly small-holder farmers and landless people; and modern and innovative domestic and export-oriented agribusiness. The NLD government drew a draft framework for multi-sectoral national plan of action for nutrition (2018) to address the food insecurity in the country. With regard to agriculture, the aim is to increase the productivity and diversity of food stuffs will focus on nutrient-dense crops, fish and animal-based foods, with an effort to integrate these into mixed farming systems.
For nutrition, the government recently announced national-level sector coordination group for nutrition and nutrition security is given priority in policy strategy documents. As poverty is regarded as the main challenge to food insecurity, the NLD government is planning to strengthen the agricultural sector by improving access to quality inputs, strengthening extension services including promotion of production and dietary diversity, reducing women’s work and labor burden, improving land regulatory framework to enable more flexible and diversified land use, strengthen land tenure, expanding water access at the parcel level to scale-up homestead food production, and supporting farmer’s organizations. The government also prioritizes the disaster management and emergency preparedness by forming National Disaster Management Committee.
The enforcement of the existing policies and implication still need to be revised by the government. Although the government laid down the policies to address food insecurity, enforcement remain weak with a lack of clear framework for implementation. The major challenge is the inadequate budget for extension services and the lack of access information as well as the technological knowledge of small-holder farmers how to use advanced policies and technology. The key vision of the government is to eliminate hunger and poverty in the country and to ensure that all people in all States and Regions have access to sufficient nutritious food to sustain their health, support their work and allow their children to develop to their full cognitive and physical potential.
Policy implication and recommendation
A number of policy recommendations are supposed for the government to address the food insecurity in Myanmar. Concerning with the agriculture sector, the price of agricultural inputs as well as the value of rice should be reduced for small-holder farmers in rural areas to afford rice from their own farms. The cost of transportation and distribution of agricultural products should also be fair and equal for all the states and region in the country. Farmers should be provided the advanced information and technological knowledge about the sustainable agriculture and improvement of nutrition. That’s why the government needs to promote public awareness for the empowerment of small-holder farmers including women labours. For the stability of food security, the government should address small-holder farmers to get access to reliable markets, both domestic and international markets by improving quality control of agricultural products.
The fishery and livestock sector should be promoted with clearer policies with the contribution to sustainable agricultural development for food security. The systematic production system of animals together with farming should be improved on “bottom-up’ approach for better distribution and sustainability. For the nutrition and health care, the government should be implemented its national plan of action for nutrition by making the food system of Myanmar to be more nutrition-sensitive needed for healthy diets. Together with nutrition, government should be aware of climate change and natural disaster with complete preparedness and better rehabilitation programme in the aftermath of the disaster. The government should focus on the economic development of the country by addressing the recommendations mentioned above in order to reduce food insecurity in the country.
In conclusion, the food security in Myanmar is still under development though the country itself is considered as self-sufficiency. The successive government focus on the development of agriculture sector and the policies are still ambiguous and controversial without clear implementation. Food security can be improved by honoring comparative advantage, enabling open markets, supporting smallholder farmers, enabling country to realize its food production potential, leveraging technology, improving nutrition, and encouraging agricultural investments. Enforcing quality control measures for food manufacturers and encouragement of research related to quality control measures for food production are essential for food safety. The government is supposed to promote broad-based agricultural transformation and rural economic growth by improving public policies and investments. In implementing these policies, the government needs to coordinate with private sector, civil society and donors, regional and international organizations.