Food Production Satisfactory In Post-Nargis Myanmar, But Access To Food Difficult For Many

Published on 28 January 2009

Food production in Myanmar was satisfactory in 2008 thanks to good harvests in areas not affected by last year's cyclone, says a new report.

BANGKOK - Despite extensive damage from Cyclone Nargis that mostly destroyed the rice harvest in the Ayeyarwaddy delta area, overall food production in Myanmar was satisfactory in 2008 because of increases in crop harvests in other regions, says a report issued by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP.

Rice production in the cyclone-affected areas of Ayeyarwaddy and Yangon divisions is expected to be only 50 percent that of the previous year. However, agricultural production in unaffected areas will be close to or better than in the previous year.

Reflecting favourable weather conditions and increasing use of better rice seeds, the 2008/09 cereal output is forecast at 21 million metric tonnes, 3 percent below the previous year but 10 percent above the average of the last five years.

Aggregate food production is expected to be satisfactory for the upcoming 2009 season.  Nevertheless, access to available food remains a problem for Myanmar’s poorest people, and pockets of food insecurity remain throughout the delta region, and in other regions, and high levels of malnutrition persist in northern and more remote states.

Altogether, more than 5 million people fall below the food poverty line in Myanmar, with the report indicating that emergency food assistance continues to be required in the cyclone-affected areas of Ayeyarwaddy Division, Chin State, where a rat infestation has affected food supplies, the northern Rakhine State, and in several other areas where WFP distributes food aid.

The UN report found that cyclone-related damage to the livestock and fishing sectors in the delta will continue to affect food supply and farmer’s income in and beyond 2008/09.

“Humanitarian assistance has not restored the production capacity of small-medium sized farms. Farmers and fishers are unlikely to self-finance their needs this year, thus entering into a spiral of pauperization of the delta,” said He Changchui, FAO’s Asia-Pacific regional chief.

Replenishing poultry and small animal stocks for landless households in the delta is still a significant challenge. Replacement of lost key assets – farm tools, fishing gear, boats, processing equipment – is ongoing and will take several more years to complete.

“Access to food remains the critical challenge for the poorest people and for vulnerable populations in remote areas of Myanmar,” said Chris Kaye, WFP’s Representative for Myanmar. “And for many of those affected by Cyclone Nargis, who are engaged in rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, the limited delta harvest means they will continue to rely on assistance to meet their food needs.”

“For the delta, we recommend support through the provision of relatively simple inputs such as seeds, draught animals and other livestock, hand tractors, fishing equipment, boat building and net making,” added Cheng Fang, the FAO mission leader.

Farmers are facing high costs of fertilizers and fuel while market crop prices fluctuate. Setting up adequate financial services and liberalized market flows will be essential to sustain growth of the farm economy in the country. Despite these challenges, and the continuing lack of access to food in many parts of the country, cereal exports from Myanmar are expected to be high this year, with rice likely to reach 577 000 metric tonnes and maize 159 000 metric tonnes.

The report notes high levels of malnutrition in northern Rakhine State and recommends a joint UNICEF WFP food security and nutrition survey be conducted to verify reports and plan appropriate interventions if needed.  Baseline food security surveys are recommended for Chin State and other areas with high percentages of food insecure populations. 

Myanmar is a “Least Developed Country” (LDC) and one of the poorest nations in Asia. According to the 2007 Human Development Report, the country ranks 132 among 177 nations on the Human Development Index and has a lower economic growth rate that its neighbouring countries.

The joint FAO/WFP mission visited Myanmar from 5 October to 4 November 2008.

Read the full report