The wrath of time has spared none in the past nor it will in the future – be it humans, the extinct dinosaurs, ancient civilizations, cultures or even the modern nations. From time to time, it has cruelly struck mankind and changed the course of geopolitics. Since its independence in 1948 to the present, Myanmar has seen it all. It has suffered one of the most catastrophic identity crisis in the South East Asian region in terms of economy, governance style, ethnic riots, production of methamphetamine or even cross border trafficking. The transition of Rangoon from world’s former leading rice exporter to a ‘failed state’ has been quite much of a tragic blow to the Burmese policy makers who strictly restrained the nations’ progress during the military rule. After an era of global sanctions and isolation, Myanmar finally began re-engaging with the global economy in 2012 opening doors for foreign investment in rural, energy and agricultural sector.
2012 also considered as the ‘Year of Liberalization’ for Myanmar fetched investments from Asian Development Bank and several other international institutions which sanctioned millions of dollars in mining, tourism, infrastructure development and agricultural sector. For Myanmar’s economy, agriculture plays an indispensable role contributing over one third of GDP and two thirds of employment. With the reputation of a former world’s rice bowl, Myanmar’s fertile lands, diverse agro-ecological areas and rich natural biosphere reserves provide a prosperous fortune for its agricultural and plantation sector. Being an agricultural and rural economy, the new government of Myanmar after 2011 has spontaneously reformed and reviewed its rice policies, stressing on concerns like regional & national food security and green economy.
In the past South East Asian countries like China, Vietnam or Laos have all set an example of a new multi-modal transitional economy pressing the importance of rural and agricultural sector for significant economic reforms. It is clear that Myanmar’s fragile economy is in a crucial need of these reforms from its promising rural sector with agriculture as the lead. However there is yet a lot to be done in reforming the rural sector policies of the country.
Despite its potential for development, the agricultural sector of the country for decades has suffered from lack of infrastructure, rural indebtedness, power crisis, under developed banking systems, lack of agricultural research institutions, infrastructural connectivity, absence of agricultural investments and others. As being stated by leading economists, India’s promising investments like Indo-Myanmar Friendship road, followed by India Burma Thailand trilateral highway and Kaladan Multi Modal projects which will be operational by 2016 can bring a serious boom in Myanmar’s agricultural sector providing infrastructural connectivity, investments in energy sector and a double fold increase in its imports hence boosting bilateral trade. Myanmar is currently a leading exporter of pulses in the Asian continent and has an open-hearted objective of reclaiming its former ‘worlds’ rice bowl’ title. However, it is very much feared that the present agricultural policies endorsed by the government to intensify rice production (i.e foreign investments and modern technology), might in future prioritize only agri business and large scale commercial farming, putting completely aside the smallholder section.
The main aspect of this agricultural policy which deserves emphasis is promoting small holder agriculture in Myanmar as a medium of inclusive growth. With the current agrarian structure, the low level of irrigation, unavailability of labor and lack of economics of scale in rice and pulses production, small holder agriculture is more efficient in Myanmar for a long term basis.
It is an undeniable fact that ‘reciprocity’ or ‘mutuality’ is the founding pillar of Indo Myanmar bilateral relations. While Myanmar’s strategic location and importance in India’s Look East Policy makes it an indispensable neighbor, India’s vast market, labor pool, potential for high economic growth, reformist policy measures and expertise in knowledge based sectors can bring a revolution in Myanmar’s’ agricultural sector.