Agricultural investment in Myanmar

Paper author: 
This paper was written by Jasmine Burnley, Daisy Gardener and Mark Grimsditch. Oxfam acknowledges the assistance of Duncan Pruett, Cho Zin Thet and Chloe Christman.
Paper publication date: 
Thursday, February 2, 2017

Agriculture plays a crucial role in the economy of Myanmar and is central to the lives of most of its population, 66 percent of whom live in rural areas. According to the previous government‟s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MOAI), in 2013–14 agriculture contributed 23 percent of the country‟s total gross domestic product (GDP), employed more than 61 percent of the labour
force and accounted for over 20 percent of total export earnings. Most of the sector consists of small-scale and subsistence farming.

Despite the emphasis that the government has placed on attracting private investors into the agriculture sector, both domestic and foreign investment in agribusiness is minor compared with
other sectors such as energy and extractives. But because of the importance of agriculture to the lives of so many people in Myanmar, the impact of agricultural investment when it does occur  in
larger volumes can be substantial, so transparent and accountable investment into agriculture will be critically important for reducing poverty and inequality in the country.

Agriculture investments in Myanmar have attracted considerable attention in the media and have raised some serious concerns among local and international civil society groups. This has been in
part due to the land conflicts and displacement that have emerged in connection with agribusiness and other land- and resource-intensive development projects. Beyond this, reports suggest that some small investments into agriculture are already having an impact on the rights of the most marginalized rural communities.

If improvements are not made in how agricultural investment into Myanmar is implemented, the poorest  people risk losing out through loss of assets, social and economic displacement and being
cut out of local supply chains. While policy makers have acknowledged the need to support smallholders by improving access to credit and providing affordable fertilizers and seeds, they
have also made it clear that attracting foreign investment is crucial to achieving goals around economic reform and reintegrating Myanmar into the global economy.
Without improved regulation, this poses a growing risk to the people of Myanmar.

This paper explores the available information on foreign agribusiness investment into Myanmar, outlining the potential risks and opportunities for communities and farmers presented by these
investments. It makes the case that investors and their governments need to do more to ensure that investments into Myanmar are more transparent and that they respect the rights of
communities and farmers.