MYANMAR plans to improve food safety in a bid to boost agricultural exports and extract more value from a sector that accounts for 38 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Ye Tint Tun, director general of the Department of Agriculture, said exports of agricultural products made up 23 per cent of Myanmar’s export volume, and this share would increase in the years to come.
“We are eager to diversify opportunities in new markets for our manufacturers. We need to learn from the experiences of other countries,” he said, adding that the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has been providing assistance in this effort.
Tin Win, assistant director of Plant Protection Division under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, told an industry event on Tuesday that strengthening private sector involvement was crucial to improving food safety in Myanmar.
“The private sector can encourage the supply of safe inputs such as pesticides and veterinary drugs, raising awareness, education and training for farmers and enterprises. We therefore need to cooperate with such international organisations as the IFC and FAO [Food and Agriculture Organisation],” he said.
The official said Myanmar still has limited access to attractive market segments in the world due to its weaknesses in food safety.
“Additionally, we have no active surveillance and databases of food-borne diseases. Such data is needed to improve the effectiveness of policies and import controls,” he said.
Tin Win said the government had resolved to improve the country’s food safety standards after a recent report by World Health Organisation showed that Myanmar ranked the lowest in the region on food safety, even trailing Laos and India.
“In a bid to ensure food safety in agricultural products, we will set restrictions on the import of pesticides and will establish more laboratories soon,” he said.
Myanmar is set to open its agribusiness sector to global markets. The World Bank has been supporting the government in reforming the food safety framework over the past two years.
The IFC has also been helping Myanmar companies to introduce an internationally recognised food safety system and has been working with the government and industry experts to build local capacity through training programmes and workshops.
Vikram Kumar, IFC country manager for Myanmar, said investment in food safety management systems would drive growth in Myanmar’s agribusinesses, and consumers would benefit with safer food and better health.
“Implementing internationally accepted food safety systems in the country can improve competitiveness among food producers in its export and domestic markets, contributing to a stronger brand and preparing them for new markets,” he said.
The IFC’s advisory work on improving Myanmar’s food safety practices, reforming regulations, and improving the business environment in the agribusiness sector is supported by Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan, he added.
Steven Jaffee, lead agriculture economist at World Bank, said the annual production loss from food-borne illness in emerging Asian market exceeded US$40 billion. He said the potential avoidable loss in Myanmar was equivalent to US$500 million to US$700 million a year.
Jaffee said Myanmar needs a comprehensive policy and concerted public-private sector strategy to address emerging food safety challenges.
Regulatory reforms on the food safety framework, the adoption of better management practices among farmers and food manufacturers would play a key role in improving food safety, along with upgrades in infrastructure including laboratories and wholesale markets.