November 25, 2017
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Myanmar puts focus on farming to boost growth

File pictures of farmers working in a field in Irrawaddy Division, Myanmar. Photo: Hong Sar / Mizzima

According to the United Nations Population Division, the country’s rural population makes up more than 66 percent of the total, much higher than the world average of 49.5%. Many are farmers who have suffered from the years of sanctions. But amid growing foreign investment, the government now plans to put more tools into their hands to improve the country’s economic future. Roee Ruttenberg reports.

This used to be called the Rice Bowl of Asia. A richness in the soil that brought a richness to its people. But now, the majority of farmers in Myanmar- many of them living in remote rural areas- are poor. People like 27-year old Kyaw Thu those been working his family’s land since he was a teen.

"Our main difficulty is drought. If there’s no rain, we can’t do anything. Some people who have money can take water from the canals and carry-on farming. But we don’t have that, or the machines, so we just have to wait." Kyaw Thu, Local Farmer said.

"The government is trying to both boost production, and boost sales. It’s launched a cooperative project that allows farmers to buy cheaper grains, and also sell their goods collectively in China, where they can fetch higher prices than here at home."

But some other initiatives have brought negative consequences. In recent years the government built a series roads that linked much of the country, but also cut-through much of its farms. Many farmers - now relying on annual loans- had to find work elsewhere.

"Since this road was constructed, our lives have become more difficult. Most of our farming land was grabbed-up, and we didn’t get any compensation. Now, we have to do general jobs elsewhere. " Nan Shwe, Local Farmer said.

Myanmar’s farmers are largely worried about their future. They now meet- openly-to discuss their frustrations.

"Even though the president, U Thein Sein, says he is listening to the farmers, the local authorities are ignoring our voice and the problems we face. So I don’t think the president and his civilian government are really hearing us. " Su Su Nwe, Farmers Rights Activist said.

Official know the key to Myanmar’s future prosperity lies in the country’s flourishing green pastures. When talking ’growth’, they now often talk of ’inclusion’. The problem they face is pulling new-found interest and investment in the country away from the cities and to the farms and farmers, where many argue it’s most desperately needed.

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