This working paper synthesizes findings from four large household and community surveys in Myanmar, each covering a major agro-ecological zone, to evaluate inter-regional variations in the composition of agriculture, livelihoods, and the rural economy, and prospects for production and income growth. We find the following:
With the partial exception of paddy, most field crop production is strongly commercially oriented, and most farmers are well-integrated into markets.
Grain crops perform less well than elsewhere in Southeast Asia, suggesting the existence of large yield and income gaps. However, climatic variability may dissuade investments at what appear to be economically optimal levels of input use, and the highly unequal distribution of agricultural land means that most yield and income gains associated with improved agricultural technologies accrue to larger farms. Expansion of decentralized small-scale groundwater irrigation services may reduce agricultural risk and support intensification, particularly in the Dry Zone.
Production of higher value, more labor and input intensive crops, such as fish, poultry, and some fruits, has potential to create spillovers through employment linkages on-farm and upstream and downstream in value chains. There are numerous examples of farmers in Myanmar rapidly taking up production of new commercial crops that appear to offer an advantage. However, potential for agricultural diversification is highly contextually specific and can be risky.
Rural livelihoods are increasingly diversified. There is a positive association between landownership and income in all zones surveyed, but the most direct pathways to income growth and economic and social mobility often lie off-farm.
Migration has accelerated rapidly since 2011, reducing the availability of labor and bidding up rural wages. This has been advantageous for land-poor households who depend disproportionally on sales of labor for their income.
Economic reforms and investments in rural infrastructure and public services since 2011 have played a pivotal role in the emergence of an increasingly dynamic rural non-farm economy. Increasingly, there is a need for these to be accompanied by investments in human capacity development, expansion of social safety nets, and social protection to buffer against shocks, such as COVID-19, and to protect vulnerable people from being left behind.
Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization rooted in civil society, that maintains strong networks and relationships with grassroots organizations and community-based organizations throughout Myanmar. It acts as a bridge to the international community and international policymakers by amplifying voices from the ground, and advocating for a rights-based policy narrative.