Myanmar makes strides towards reclaiming the title of being the primary source of rice exports, so named the “Asian Rice Bowl,” by doubling its rice production and export.
In fact, Myanmar aims to ship 2.5 million metric tons of rice between 2014-2015 with a targeted increase of 4.8 million tons between the years 2019-2020. In comparison, Myanmar shipped approximately 690,000 tons last year, ranking 9th in the world.
Among Myanmar’s competitors are its neighboring countries: Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. In its favor, Myanmar holds vast arable land, a large water supply and labor force, as well as low production costs.
Myanmar’s primary beneficiaries include Russia, as well as a number of other European and African countries. Half of Myanmar’s rice shipment goes towards its largest shipper: China.
However, a key hindrance to Myanmar’s growth concerns the remnants of its past military regime. Myanmar was the largest exporter of rice between 1961-1963.
More importantly, Myanmar’s prime deterrent in reestablishing itself as a large rice exporter is its infrastructure. With almost five decades run by a military junta, Myanmar has since seen little development in mechanization, basic electricity, telephone networks, and facilities such as governmental buildings are severely lacking in computers. From processing and shipment to transport, Myanmar is also lacking in the quality of its ports.
As the nation shrugs off 49 years of dictatorship rule, Myanmar is ready to show the world, particularly foreign investors, that the rules will change. In 2010, pro-democracy and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was released. Since then, many more political prisoners have been released. Political parties formed and participated in parliamentary elections in 2012 and in the same year, privately owned newspapers were allowed into the country.
Results have come about. Previous economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union have been lifted. The Asian Development Bank, in a bid to jump start the fledgling regime’s economic and social institutions, granted loans to Myanmar. Furthermore, Myanmar recently regained its position in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Despite a history of human rights abuses and ethnic and religious conflicts occurring, Myanmar is implementing necessary changes, starting with rice.
In regards to its citizens, Myanmar’s working sector is heavily tied to the rice industry in which an estimated 70% of the population partakes. Additionally, 13% of Myanmar’s gross domestic product is in the rice industry.
In order to truly be the Asian Rice Bowl, Myanmar must continue to cultivate and foster its existing industry towards creating a surplus of opportunity for its citizens.
– Miles Abadilla
Sources: BBC: Increase in Rice Exports, BBC: Reforms in Burma, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters: Analysis, Thomson Reuters: ASEAN Chair