Myanmar to Rejoin Agricultural Community

After decades of isolation and political oppression, Myanmar, formerly Burma, is planning to rejoin the international agricultural community and hopes to reestablish its former role as a worldwide rice exporter.

In 1962, the Burmese military overthrew the democratically election government. The military junta, which ruled the renamed Myanmar until last year, cracked down on political expression and economic freedom. In particular, the military government enforced a centralized economic system that depended on international isolationism.

The economy of Myanmar, before the military coup, relied heavily on rice exports and was one of the wealthiest in Southeast Asia. Rice production was high enough to make Myanmar one of the world’s largest agricultural exporters.

After tentative democratic reforms, Myanmar’s economic leaders are hoping to double rice exports through a series of rapid economic transformation. In particular, economic officials hope that political reform and eased international sanctions will make it easier for Myanmar’s farmers to gain access to quality seeds from agricultural giants like Monsanto. The government has also been setting up agricultural banks to offer farmers access to farm credit.

It’s unclear how effective Myanmar’s reforms may be. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that overall rice exports could fall 23 percent in 2012 due to increased production from other rice producers. However, easing U.S. sanctions could signal an overall thawing of relations, which could potentially lead to Myanmar’s inclusion in U.S. trade deals.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer