This summer, it will be my first time to visit some Southeast Asian countries after a stressful work for Rice Today magazine. I haven’t got time to plan this “backpacking” but I’m already excited.
Unfortunately, I can’t stay out roaming for too long to explore the less travelled Southeast Asian countries such as Laos and Myanmar. I would want to see Myanmar especially after reading a number of online news that Burma is now stepping up to advance its economy by opening it to investors, international trade, and tourism.
Incidentally, last week, I attended a talk here at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) about Myanmar’s potential in rice production. The speakers were IRRI scientists and economist (Australian Dr. Grant Singleton, British Dr. David Johnson, and American professor emeritus of Cornell and former IRRI economist Dr Randy Barker).
They said that in 10 or so years, Myanmar could achieve what Vietnam has done in rice production, i.e., 7 million metric tons of annual production (plus, Vietnam is now competing with Thailand for the position of top world rice exporter). They said that Myanmar used to do well in production, but what could boost their rice economy once more is policy change and basically government support, perhaps like what Thailand is doing now–rice pledging scheme, a program that supports the farmers by buying their rice paddies at a cost higher than the market price (although this scheme has its share of boons and banes). Also, like in other agricultural countries, one way to advance Myanmar’s agriculture is by revving up its technologies or farm mechanization, together with the improvement of rice hybrids and diversity. As of now, IRRI is working on projects that will increase Myanmar’s rice production.
The last question from the audience, after the talk, was interesting: It seems that the rest of Southeast Asian countries are progressing, but how come only the Philippines is left? That made the hall (full of international scientists and economists) chuckle a bit because there is painful truth to that. Dr Barker had a perfect answer to that complex question: perhaps we can have that as our next IRRI seminar topic.