Myanmar seeks to rejoin top rice exporters

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 YANGON  – As Myanmar emerges from decades of isolation and oppression, it hopes to reclaim its nearly forgotten status as the world’s biggest rice exporter.

 That’s a tall order, but industry and government officials have begun drafting plans to revitalize the industry after years of neglect and military mismanagement.

 No country’s appetite is quite like Myanmar’s, which boasts the world’s highest annual rice consumption at 210 kg (460 lb) per person. It makes up 75 percent of the country’s diet, according to government  statistics.

 That helps explains its economy.

 Agriculture — including farms, fisheries, forestry and livestock — accounts for 43 percent of gross domestic product, a quarter of exports and 70 percent of employment. Industrial production, including exports of natural gas, is about 20 percent of the $43 billion economy.

As Myanmar undergoes the most breathtaking reforms in the former British colony since a 1962 military coup when it was known as Burma, the government is looking for ways to revive the rice industry and reclaim its nearly forgotten status as the world’s top rice exporter in the 1960s.

A top priority is to give farmers better access to high-quality seeds by encouraging investments from multinationals such as Monsanto Co and DuPont Co’s Pioneer Hi-Bred seed unit.

“In China, every township has a seed production company,” Tin Naing Thein, National Planning and Economic Development Minister told media. “The government will encourage and support them here.”

A recent easing in U.S. sanctions could make that easier. DuPont Pioneer, for instance, is “looking forward to exploring opportunities in Myanmar”, spokeswoman Cookie Lo said in an e-mail.

Myanmar is predicting a big increase in exports, projecting shipments of as much as 2 million tonnes next year and 3 million by 2015, says Ye Min Aung, Secretary General of the Myanmar Rice Industry Association. That’s up sharply from 778,000 last year.

It expects exports to double this year to 1.5 million tonnes. However, the U.S. Agriculture Department attache has forecast exports would likely tumble 23 percent in 2012, due to increased supplies from other rice producers.

Categories: Business

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