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Agriculture is key to the development of Myanmar, the poorest country in Southeast Asia. Dryland cereals and grain legumes can play important roles in improving the livelihoods of farmers, especially in the Dry Central Zone. 

34% - Population of Myanmar living on less that US$ 1.25 a day

10% - Share of Myanmar's territory considered semi-arid

1,200 kg/ha - Average pigeonpea yield in Myanmar, highest among pigeonpea producing countries




General context

Myanmar is a resource-rich country but still suffers from pervasive government controls, inefficient economic policies, corruption, and rural poverty. It is the poorest country in Southeast Asia; approximately 34% of the population lives in poverty. Corruption is prevalent and significant resources concentrated in the extractive industries are concentrated in a few hands. In the last 2-3 years, the Burmese government has initiated notable economic reforms. Agriculture represents over a third of the national GDP and employs 70% of the working population.

Nargis cyclone in 2008, which affected over 80% of the rural households, highlighted Myanmar's extreme vulnerability to natural hazards. Farmers in the Dry Central Zone in particular face erratic rainfall and land degradation. This semi-arid lowland region of central Myanmar (Sagaing, Magway and Mandalay Divisions) covers 10% of the territory, between two higher regions, the Shan plateau on the East and the Rakhine Yoma and Chin hills on the west. Hosting 20% of the Burmese population, this area is characterized by less diversified agricultural production systems with low inputs.

ICRISAT research in Myanmar

ICRISAT collaborates with Myanmar's agricultural research institutions, in particular the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) and Myanmar Agriculture Service (MAS) in the areas of crop improvement, especially grain legumes, and natural resource management. Myanmar is a member of the Cereals and Legumes Asia Network (CLAN).

Pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut account for 40% of the legume area in Myanmar. Pigeonpea is a major export grain. Traditionally, long-duration (>200 days) pigeonpea varieties are cultivated under a wide range of cropping systems. The promotion of short duration varieties and hybrids is helping raise yields, up to 2.9 t/ha.

Chickpea is used in rice fallow cropping systems or as a pest trap in between sunflower plots.

Groundnut is also an important crop for Myanmar's dryland farmers. Over 1.3 million tons are produced annually on 800,000 ha. Crop breeding research aims at developing varieties with proved traits such as pod rot and foliar disease resistance, early maturity, high-yields and drought tolerance. These varieties are popularized through farmer participatory trials and village-level seed banks.

Myanmar's capacity to produce high quality Rhizobial inoculants is being enhanced for better pulse yields for farmers in the Dry Central Zone.  

Dryland cereals are also important for the livelihoods of farmers in the Dry Central Zone. Average sorghum yield has risen from 660 kg/ha in 1995 to 940kg/ha in 2009 thanks to improved cultivars bred by ICRISAT. Drought- and heat-tolerant pearl millet, a relatively minor crop in Myanmar (20,000 hectare), as well as other small millets could play a strong role in the coming years to promote more rational water use.

Key documents on Myanmar

A strategic agricultural sector and food security diagnostic for Myanmar, March 2013, Michigan University for USAID

Strategic choices for the future of Myanmar agriculture, MSU 2013

Burma Food Security fact sheet 2013, USAID

Photo: ICRISAT
A chickpea-sunflower intercrop for eco-friendly management of pod borers  in Kyauksae township, reduces by half the use of pesticides.
Groundnut farmers of Myanmar selecting preferred varieties through varietal selection.
A farmer with his crop of hybrid pigeonpea that was developed through ICRISAT-DAR collaboration.