Aquaculture and Food Security in Rural Myanmar

I work with a wonderful and brilliant team on a USAID funded project in Myanmar. Errm… I mean Burma… (The U.S. government still resists the name change). The team recently wrote a paper on the aquaculture sector in Myanmar. It is a fascinating read, if you’re into this kind of thing… Although I’m not an official co-author of the report, I did copy edit the entire document prior to it’s official release.

Read the whole report here: Aquaculture in Transition: Value Chain Transformation, Fish and Food Security in Myanmar

Here are some take-aways:

1. Fish is super important to Myanmar’s food and nutrition security.

  • Fish is the cheapest form of animal protein in the country.
  • Fish accounts for 50% of animal source food consumed.
  • Fish represents an average food budget share in Myanmar equal to that of rice.

2. Marketed aquaculture products (i.e. farmed fish) are largely inaccessible to the poorest in Myanmar.

  • Aquaculture supplies only 21% of total fish intake.
  • The remaining 79% is supplied by capture fisheries (i.e. fishing with nets in rivers, lakes, and the ocean).

3. Productivity of Myanmar’s aquaculture sector is relatively low

  • Reported yields in Lower Myanmar have a mean of 3.7 t/ha, with a minimum of 1 t/ha and a maximum of 10 t/ha
  • Compare that with Andhra Pradesh, India (a comparable region) which has a mean of 9 t/ha.
  • Myanmar’s production level roughly equals that of India’s Andhra Pradesh in the 1980s.

4. Official statistics of Myanmar’s aquaculture sector are flawed.

  • Production figures are inflated by roughly 160%.
  • Pond use for aquaculture is underreported by roughly 30%.

5. Myanmar’s aquaculture sector is dominated by large firms.

  • An antiquated land use regulation, constraining smallholder farmers from transitioning their farm from rice paddies to fish ponds, still remains from the centralized military regime of the 1980s.
  • While credit systems exist in rural areas, it is generally accepted that smallholder farmers have limited access to formal credit markets.
  • There is room for growth in Myanmar’s aquaculture sector through expanding the production of smallholder fish farms.

Reeling in Reality

David Foster Wallace, American writer and essayist, began his commencement address to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005 with this well known story about fish: One fish says to the other, “So, how’s the water?” The other replied, “What’s water?” The insight and brilliance of this story lies parallel to my experience in Ghana over the past few months. Just as the eyes of a fish are opened to the realities of the world by their experiences—say being caught on a fishing line—my eyes have been opened, my awareness of important issues has been deepened, and my appreciation for other cultures, namely Ghanaian culture, has grown. This has been a time for me to prune away the unnecessary and to add the required aspects of life. I have been challenged to move beyond my simple assumptions of how the world works and have developed a fuller understanding of reality. It turns out the world is much more complicated and nuanced than I ever could have dreamed. Through all this learning I have been humbled. I am smaller and more insignificant than I previously believed. Through all this however, God has ordained and designed this time in my life specifically for me to train and prepare me for a life dedicated to service for the purpose of building His Kingdom.

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