Can Myanmar be Asia's rice granary?

Last Updated: Thu, Nov 22, 2012 10:30 hrs

New Delhi, Nov 22 (IANS) A new collaborative effort aims to realise the full potential of Myanmar as Asia's rice granary.

The government of Myanmar, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) have entered into a collaboration to realise the potential of the Ayeyarwady delta, traditionally known for its rice.

The effort is to address risks farmers face in these areas so that yeilds improve.

"Interventions to reduce the vulnerability of Myanmar's farmers to extreme weather means promoting the use of rice varieties that can tolerate flood, salinity and drought," says IRRI's David Johnson, coordinator for the Consortium for Unfavourable Rice Environments (CURE), according to an IRRI statement.

August saw severe monsoon flooding in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady delta rice−producing areas. Consequently, rice farmers were left with flooded rice farms and damaged crops.

In other areas in the delta, rice is affected by salinity from sea water intrusion, resulting in land being underused.

If the two million−hectare rice−producing areas in the delta use better management practices and appropriate rice varieties, they could easily boost Myanmar's domestic and export capacities − critical for a country whose per capita rice consumption is the highest in the world at 190 kg per year.

IRRI has been working in Myanmar since the 1970s and is now helping to pull together national and international partners to provide support to rice farmers to minimise losses when flooding occurs.

"IRRI's breeding programme has been working with government scientists to develop improved varieties that tolerate these constraints and link farmers to these innovations," said Johnson.

"On top of these stress−tolerant varieties, IRRI also develops management technologies that not only help deliver higher yields but also promote environmental sustainability and reduce costs," he added.

Burma, as Myanmar was earlier called, was traditionally an exporter of rice to India. The famine in Bengal in 1942−43 occurred as the Japanese had occupied Burma in World War II, stopping the rice exports.

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