UN top official requested to initiate development partnership and assessment of the rural economy in Myanmar

A team of statistical experts from the United Nations will be sent to Myanmar this month in order to organize a training workshop on national accounts, development goals reporting and computing human development indicators. The training is as a result of an official visit from the highest ranking UN official of the Asia Pacific region. At the invitation of Mr. Htay Oo, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation, Government of Myanmar, Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP concluded a six -day field visit to Myanmar from 26 July to 1 August 2009. Dr. Heyzer called on H.E. Mr. Thein Sein, the Prime Minister, and met nine Cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers as well as numerous mayors and local officials during her visit. The ESCAP Chief was requested by the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation and the Minister of Planning and Economic Development to jointly organize national seminars on development partnerships. The Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation observed that ESCAP “will be able to pave the way in diverting the resources back to agriculture, ensuring that food and agricultural producers, particularly small farmers, have the support they need to grow the food the world needs today.” In accepting the request to jointly organize the national seminars on development partnership, the Executive Secretary called for rural debt relief and an agricultural stimulus package as options for revitalizing the rural economy of Myanmar. Dr. Heyzer also pointed out that developing a supportive and enabling policy environment for the agricultural economy, including rice production, also needed the urgent attention of the policy makers. The Executive Secretary’s journey traversed the vast and dusty central dry zone of Myanmar, covering more than 1250 kilometres across several townships and villages. Travelling by road, the Executive Secretary stopped to speak to farmers, farm workers, shopkeepers, small village artisans and agricultural extension officials to gain first hand knowledge about Myanmar’s agricultural economy in the arid zone. She also visited irrigation works, seed banks, commodity exchange, paddy and corn fields, coffee plantations, agricultural machinery factories, small livelihood projects and village craft industries. During her journey through the dry zone, she held extensive discussions with the high officials of different departments of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, forestry officials, agricultural extension workers and the farmers on various aspects of the rural economy of the central plains of Myanmar and offered her own insights and suggested options to the challenges they faced.

Several issues were highlighted as requiring urgent attention, including the provision of a better financial and banking system, adequate and sustainable agricultural credit, better prices for agricultural produce, improved supply chain management, improved pre- and post-harvest technologies including for harvesting, processing, storing and transporting agricultural products, better marketing facilities and access to information on agricultural prices. Immediate policy initiatives were also needed for increased investments in rural infrastructure, rural employment schemes particularly during dry periods, and improved health, sanitation and educational facilities for the farming community. The Government of Myanmar requested the assistance of ESCAP in developing a more coordinated and comprehensive inter-ministerial approach in revitalizing the agricultural economy. ESCAP was also requested to assist in conducting an economic and social assessment of Myanmar’s rural economy and carrying out Myanmar’s agricultural census in 2010. ESCAP’s assistance was also sought for building the country’s statistical capacity for building a system of accurate national accounts and MDG reporting. The Executive Secretary accepted the requests for ESCAP’s assistance and assured the Myanmar authorities that ESCAP would extend the country all possible help in revitalizing its rural economy. As an immediate response to the request to undertake statistical capacity building, the Executive Secretary informed him that ESCAP was sending a team of experts this month to organize a training workshop on national accounts, MDG reporting and computing human development indicators. Dr. Heyzer expressed her appreciation for the high priority accorded to water management and irrigation for small farmers in Myanmar. She noted that Myanmar was among the lowest recipients of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) in the region, and called for an increase in ODA to supplement the efforts of the national government in this area.