Critical Areas for Systemic Intervention
Environmental degradation, resource depletion and climate change are key drivers in defining the urgent areas in Myanmar food systems to systemically intervene. Although these topics look irrelevant for Myanmar because stakeholders especially producers are not able to connect the the distant dots of cause and effect, the social impacts originated from those are too significant to ignore. Without urgent intervention, these degradations and deteriorations could lead to irreversible consequences.
However, as the global supply chains are now increasingly valuing the sustainable products or production practices, if strategic interventions could take place in time, Myanmar food systems could even benefit by leveraging on the investment on sustainable practices.
For example, if producers could demonstrate that their products are responsibly produced with smaller carbon footprint or with lesser pesticide, they can practically improve the market access and connect to global supply chains. Involvement of digitalized tools will be a cross-cutting solution to unlock those opportunities.
Average Soil Biodiversity Potential Index describes the potential level of diversity (micro and macro fauna) living in the soil. Countries with low potential soil biodiversity could be at risk and Myanmar's index stands at 0.9 where average world index stands at 0.7 according to European Soil Data Center (ESDAC). Extreme dependency on chemical fertilizers, lack of soil fertility knowledge and soil testing services and unregulated use of pesticides are some of current practices and limitations causing the soil degradation and environmental pollution.
Although abrupt change to a total regenerative agriculture could unbalance the market system and socio-economic status quo, a gradual yet steadfast change via sustainable agriculture by ingraining resource-efficient and circular practices could benefit the actors especially the producers improve their efficiencies and profitability, hence sustainability.
Food Safety and Quality
Economist Impact's Global Food Security Index ranked Myanmar 66th for food safety and quality out of 113 countries assessed. Food safety has been limiting the market assess and competitiveness of Myanmar agricultural and food products as the country is lacking necessary technical infrastructures, well-harmonized regulatory measures and effective enforcement.
Although multiple agencies have contributed to improve food safety and quality at different levels of involvements, as the topic is both technically demanding and resource-intensive to have tangible results, strategic interventions in broader regions are still needed to improve food safety and quality to unlock the full potential of Myanmar's agri-food sector.
With the rise of responsible consumers who care about the impact of food production on environment amidst the rapidly worsening climate change, plant-based food has been gaining significant momentum, however not without the bottlenecks to solve. One of the biggest challenges plant-based food industry is facing today is the scale-up issues to bring down the cost and diversification of its offering in terms of organoleptic properties. For both challenges, Myanmar has significant advantages to offer the solutions. Myanmar is the world's second largest producer and third largest exporter of peas and pulses which are one of the most potential protein crops for plant-based end-product formulations and production of functional ingredients. Switch To Green is the ongoing multi-stakeholder initiative of CSAID cross-regionally implementing between Myanmar and Singapore.
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(ref: Plant Protein Primer by GFI)
Food Loss and Waste
Agri-food exports account for approximately one-third of Myanmar's total export making Myanmar a net-exporter in agri-food trade. This false perception of abundance have made the stakeholders deviate from paying attention to food loss and waste despite the country's 13 million food insecure population. The chart on the left (click to enlarge) from Food Systems Dashboard shows that since early onset of democratic transition in 2013, the losses of fruit crops sharply increased from 9.3% to 12% (This amount does not include quantities lost before or during harvest, nor food waste, which commonly refers to food that is lost during retail or at the household level) along with the possible increased production, indicating many gaps for strategic intervention to minimize the losses along the supply chain. Myanmar has an interesting number of untapped agricultural waste streams for valorization.