At the opening of the National Workshop on ‘Rural Development Strategic Framework’ in Nay Pyi Taw, President of Myanmar U Thein Sein said: “Seventy percent of the population live in rural areas and the poverty incidence in rural areas is the highest” and in his speech he emphasised that Myanmar needed to put more effort to the socio-economic development. For the development in economic aspect, focus was required on: 1) food security, 2) rural development and poverty reduction and 3) sustainable economic development.
M.K.Gandhi had once said “The soul of India lives in its villages”. This statement of past stands true enough in today’s context as according to 2011 Census of India, 68.84% of Indians live in 640267 different villages. The size of these villages varies considerably. 236,004 Indian villages have a population less than 500, while 3,976 villages have a population of 10,000+. These figures make a clear appeal about the significance of Rural society in today’s India.
The above two instances clearly bring out the fact that major population of both these nations dwells in villages. So, development of the villages of both these nations is highly crucial for the overall development of the nations. Frankly speaking, the development of village means: extension of irrigation facilities, expansion of electricity, improvement in the techniques of cultivation, construction of school building and provision of educational facilities, health care etc. These requirements hold true for both India and Myanmar as the two neighbours share a very similar geography, history and culture. Agriculture has been the most crucial occupation of the rural folk since time immemorial. Myanmar (formerly called as ‘Burma’) was made a province of the British India by British rulers and again separated in 1937. India established diplomatic relations after Myanmar’s independence from Great Britain in 1948. How can one forget the historic ‘Slash and Burn method’ of farming which were and are still practised in Myanmar and North-east India?
In India, slow agricultural growth is a concern for policymakers as some two-thirds of India’s people depend on rural employment for a living. Current agricultural practices are neither economically nor environmentally sustainable and India’s yields for many agricultural commodities are considerably low. Poorly maintained irrigation systems and almost universal lack of good extension services are among the factors responsible. Farmers’ access to markets is hampered by poor roads, fragile market infrastructure and excessive regulation. There are still farmers who have to wait for the rains to arrive and irrigate their fields. But problem does not remain confined only to the production of crops, even if there is a good harvest, it lacks cold storage, food packaging as well as safe and efficient rural transport system. This causes world’s highest food spoilage rates in India, which is surely not affordable.
In Myanmar, agriculture has been the main industry, accounting for 60% of the GDP and employing some 65% of the labour force. Like India, farmers in Myanmar too rely on the monsoon season as their primary water source are subject to the recent fluctuating weather patterns. For example, the Burmese rice crop was negatively affected by a record high rainfall during the prolonged 2011 monsoon season which resulted in a projected 10 percent drop in production. The traditional practise of Slash and Burn method is still in severe practice across the nation. Many people condemn this primitive practice as evil and responsible for destruction of the forests of the nation. But how can this practice be removed until a better, eco-friendly and economical method is introduced that is suitable for the Burmese requirements?
The bilateral relation between India and Myanmar has been very old. Although India never intervened in the gradual development of democracy in Myanmar, but still the ties have improved since 1993 and are currently quite strong in many other fields. Trade, educational exchanges, infrastructure development, counter against drug trafficking and insurgency have been the key areas in which a smooth diplomatic relation has fostered between the two nations. Joint Rural Development Project can bring out quite favourable outcomes for both the partner nations. The significance of such a collaboration can be presumed because the similarity in rural scenario of the two places is quite great.
Currently, the requirements are a bit different for the two nations. Commercial methods of agriculture have come into practice in various parts of India and have shown a positive outcome in the yield. Although a huge fraction of Burmese population is involved in agriculture, the production is unimpressive. It seems to be a high time for Myanmar to adopt the new, commercialised and advanced techniques of farming. The tools and machines of latest technology need to be included in it.
India which has already achieved success in the use of HYV seeds, witnessed Green Revolution, can provide a good lesson to Myanmar in improving the condition of its Rural household. On the other hand, some traditional methods of water harvesting by the use of connected channels of bamboo logs and several other unique ways which are ‘heritage of Myanmar’ can be a lesson for the Indian rurals.
This way, exchange of practices and sharing of knowledge can be beneficial for both the countries. Engineers, technicians and students associated with agriculture and Rural Development Projects should be sent from India to Myanmar and vice-versa.
This way ‘Rural Development’ can provide a new vista for the extension and improvement of the bilateral relation between the two nations. Apart from the strategic gains, which are of primary focus for India, the tie would help Indian villages to get practical lessons too.