Japan’s technology sought to turn Myanmar into major rice exporter

Myanmar agricultural experts are eager to use a Japanese fertilizer that could help them grow better rice and significantly increase output, if only their farmers could afford it.

After the experts studied the fertilizer manufacturing process during a visit to Katakura Chikkarin Co.’s plant in Chiba Prefecture on Aug. 25, they said they wanted Japan to build plants in Myanmar to provide farmers with an effective fertilizer to replace the Chinese one they currently use.

Along with richer fertilizer, the introduction of advanced rice milling, storage and post-harvest technology, as well as the expansion of irrigation systems, are key to boosting the competitiveness of Myanmar’s farm sector as it seeks to become a major rice exporting country like neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, they said.

“We need technology. For example, we can grow rice twice and even three times a year if an irrigation facility is available to more farmers,” Myo Kywe, vice rector at Yezin Agricultural University in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, said in Tokyo after wrapping up the weeklong mission on Aug. 26.

Myanmar has exported an estimated 1.30 million tons of rice so far this year, up from 1.16 million tons in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the figures lag Myanmar’s target of 4 million tons in 2020.

The country’s rice is exported mainly to comparably low-end markets such as Africa, Bangladesh, China and India.

“Farmers in our country cannot afford to invest,” Myo Kywe said. “The government needs to give them incentives like subsidies, machinery and fertilizer. We would like countries like Japan and foreign investors to help us develop the agriculture sector as well.”

During the mission, 19 Myanmar officials and leaders from its agriculture industry met with Japanese experts on agricultural technology and toured the plants of several farm-related companies to learn about advanced technology and innovation. These included the Tsukuba plant of farm equipment maker Kubota Corp., and a plant run by Satake Corp., a manufacturer of rice-processing equipment in Hiroshima Prefecture.

The mission was funded by the Japanese government and organized by the Asian Productivity Organization, a Tokyo-based regional development body that groups 20 economies.

Mitsuo Nakamura, a program officer at the Agriculture Department of APO, hailed the experts’ eagerness to learn from Japan and said most of the companies and research institutions they visited showed interest in conducting research and business in the newly democratizing country’s emerging, yet untapped market.

Because rice production provides jobs for about 70 percent of Myanmar’s population, an increase in exports and incomes would help reduce poverty in a country whose per capita gross domestic product is the lowest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Japanese companies have been piling into Myanmar to access its cheap labor force ever since it got rid of its junta-led government.

In the latest step to help Myanmar boost rice output, the Japanese government on Sept. 5 offered up to ¥14.87 billion in low-interest loans for an irrigation project in the Bago region, north of Yangon.

Japanese officials called for increased government-private sector tie-ups to raise the competitiveness of Myanmar’s rice industry, saying official development assistance alone is not sufficient to achieve such a goal.

Citing the need to modernize Myanmar’s milling sector, which is stuck with obsolete processing units that cause losses of about 15 to 20 percent in quality and quantity, the World Bank said its average paddy yields of 2.5 tons per hectare are only half those achieved by other exporters in the region.

“Myanmar has the potential to more than double its rice exports by diversifying and increasing rice production, opening its rice milling sector to direct foreign investments, and reducing export procedure costs, and thereby helping many rural poor to escape poverty,” the bank said in a report on Myanmar’s rice export strategy.


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