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Five member states of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including Burma, have agreed to establish a regional Rice Federation, according to Soe Tun, joint-secretary of Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF).
Plans for an ASEAN Rice Federation (ARF) began in November last year when agricultural ministers and industry leaders from Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia convened in Bangkok. The concerned officials finalised an agreement last weekend in Rangoon.
Soe Tun said the ARF will focus on regional and global food security, global rice market stability, mutual assistance for technological advancement, and improving trade. The ARF will also prioritise bettering the lives of farmers, and the agreement contains an inclusion clause mandating that the federation have a branch of farmers.
Burmese representatives also proposed an information-sharing network among regional farmers and promoted an insurance system to cover losses caused by natural disasters. Low-interest loans and technical assistance for developing waste reduction systems were also suggested.
Terms of the agreement will be presented in a minister-level meeting to be held in August.
Soe Tun said being a member of the ARF will allow Burma a place in the international market, which will benefit farmers and traders. Burma is still developing a national rice strategy, which is expected to be ready for implementation in about six months.
Despite Burma’s reliance on the agricultural sector – which is thought to support more than 60 percent of the population – farmers still face an uncertain future. Decades of land confiscations remain unsettled, while new reports of unfair or unlawful acquisitions steadily surface as new industries enter the country.
Thailand and Vietnam, included in the ARF, are the biggest exporters of rice in the world, shipping off 8.5 and 6.5 million tons respectively last year. Before succumbing to military rule in 1962, Burma was the world’s largest leading rice exporter, widely referred to as the “Rice Bowl of Asia”.