First ATMI-ASEAN national-level policy roundtable tackles agri-food trade in Myanmar

By Bernice Anne C. Darvin FANSSEA News

MOALI Permanent Secretary Dr. Tin Htut (seated, center) with the Myanmar Technical Working Group, representatives from the public and private sectors, academe, research institutions, farmers’ organization, IFPRI and SEARCAMOALI Permanent Secretary Dr. Tin Htut (seated, center) with the Myanmar Technical Working Group, representatives from the public and private sectors, academe, research institutions, farmers’ organization, IFPRI and SEARCA

NAY PYI TAW, MYANMAR. The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation-Department of Planning (MOALI-DOP), organized the first national-level policy roundtable under the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-funded project Agricultural Transformation and Market Integration in the ASEAN Region: Responding to Food Security and Inclusiveness Concerns or ATMI-ASEAN on 20 April 2018 at the Grand Amara Hotel, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. 

The policy roundtable titled "Challenges and Opportunities of Agri-food Trade: The Case of Myanmar" took off from the recently completed policy studies of IFPRI. The roundtable aimed to: (1) discuss the state of food security and nutrition in the context of a food systems approach in Myanmar; (2) identify the prospects for diversification in the agriculture sector as identified in the current Agricultural Development Strategy; (3) highlight the export opportunities for agricultural commodities of Myanmar, both existing and prospective in the context of their competitiveness and the governance issues; and (4) explore the role of non-state actors and players including Farmer Organizations (FO), Civil Society Groups, and the Private Sector (PS) in augmenting smallholder's income through their participation in agricultural diversification.

His Excellency Dr. Tin Htut, Permanent Secretary of MOALI, warmly welcomed the guests and thanked them for their participation for this good cause. He emphasized the timeliness of discussing agricultural transformation and market integration in Myanmar, especially now that the country is at its crossroads. Dr. Tin Htut believes that Myanmar has all the potential to develop alongside its other neighboring nations. However, a great challenge lies in the country's capacity to exploit existing opportunities and create markets for Myanmar's agricultural products. Dr. Tin Htut expected that through this policy dialogue Myanmar will be given possible solutions to its current conundrum. To end, he said that what the country needs to achieve its development goals are system-wide reforms and sector-wide strategies.

SEARCA Director Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit, Jr., represented by Ms. Carmen Nyhria G. Rogel, Program Specialist, addressed the roundtable participants. In his message he expressed his belief on how agriculture will continue to play a crucial role in driving overall regional development especially in the context of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). To adjust to changes in the regional agri-food market, Myanmar must accelerate structural transformation through policy reforms, technological improvements, infrastructure, market diversification, and institutional support.

Dr. Pramod Kumar Joshi, Director of IFPRI-South Asia, said in his opening message that Myanmar agriculture is transforming and has a lot of potential for growth. He cited how the country is blessed with rich natural resources -- abundant soil, water, and sunshine; highly-diversified agro-ecologies; and strategic location for trade. However, Dr. Joshi explained that there are gaps that need to be filled. Amid having such a conducive environment for agricultural activities, Myanmar needs three things: innovation, markets, and effective policies. Investing in agricultural research is a good starting point to develop technologies and innovate. In terms of market creation, competitive, sustainable, and resilient value chains are necessary. Lastly, policy reforms are imperative. Where and how much investments and subsidies must be place, which industries must be supported, what regulations must be enforced -- these are where good policies must be crafted.

In his keynote message, Mr. Kyaw Swe Lin, Deputy Director General of DOP, identified five major challenges in Myanmar agriculture: (1) low productivity, (2) low value of agricultural produce, (3) low competitiveness, (4) lack of crop rotation systems, and (5) weak value-addition. To elaborate, he said that most of Myanmar's agricultural produce are being exported as raw materials. Thus, to achieve agricultural transformation there is a need to shift from primary production to value-addition. This can be done through implementation of policies that would create an enabling environment. He stressed that as valuable as markets are, strong institutional structures and policies are more critical to achieve competitiveness.

After a series of inspiring and informative messages, IFPRI presented some of its recently completed policy researches in relation to Myanmar. Dr. Suresh Babu, Senior Research Fellow of IFPRI-Washington discussed about the Food System Framework in Myanmar, followed by Dr. P. Parthasarathy Rao who analyzed the Pace and Pattern of Agricultural Transformation in the country. Dr. Joshi of IFPRI-South Asia then suggested ways of Promoting Agri-food Value Chains for Small-scale Producers. In terms of trade, Dr. Devesh Roy, Senior Research Fellow of IFPRI-Washington showed the various Trade Opportunities for Agri-food Commodities in Myanmar. His presentation was supplemented by Dr. Avinash Kishore, Research Fellow of IFPRI-South Asia, who focused on the opportunities for one of Myanmar's most important agricultural products -- pulses. Representatives from the MOALI, likewise, presented other high-potential agricultural industries such as horticulture, livestock, and fisheries. Panel discussions were also conducted on the roles of two major agricultural stakeholders, namely, the private sector and farmer organizations.

Mr. Jimmy B. Williams, Project Support Unit (PSU) Coordinator of ATMI-ASEAN for SEARCA, shared some of the activities that participants can look forward to after the policy roundtable. One will be the conduct of the national-level policy studies in the five target ASEAN member states focusing on their selected priority commodity, such pulses for Myanmar. Next would be a series of policy roundtables that will be based on the upcoming studies of IFPRI on the current level of market integration in these five countries.

In his synthesis, Dr. Joshi cited six major points that came out of the policy roundtable. First, the food system framework of Myanmar is still evolving, and the country is still striving to reduce poverty, hunger and undernutrition. Second, the agricultural sector is transforming but its pace must be accelerated to achieve the ultimate goal of increasing farmers' incomes. Third, there are numerous opportunities to develop the domestic and international agricultural value chains in Myanmar, but to harness these opportunities policies to create enabling environments must be put in place. Fourth, Myanmar should pursue its trade negotiations with India on pulses. The country should explore the concept of the Minimum Support Price (MSP). Fifth, imports are increasing but exports remain static for Myanmar, and this is another concern, which needs to be put in check, especially with increasing competition in the international market. Conducting empirical analyses before making decisions is a wise way to go, and IFPRI and SEARCA are willing to help in this aspect. Finally, the private sector and farmer organizations will play important roles in transforming Myanmar agriculture and improving market integration in the region, and therefore must be brought together.

To close the program, DOP Deputy Director Kyaw Swe Lin extended his sincere appreciation to IFAD, for funding the ATMI-ASEAN project, to IFPRI for serving as resource speakers of the policy roundtable, and to SEARCA for its continued support to MOALI. He also thanked all the guests for their active participation in this undertaking.

More than 50 representatives from the government, private sector, academe, research institutions, farmer organizations and producer associations attended the event.