A new report on Myanmar’s inland fish farms highlights a number of issues preventing the industry from reaching its potential, including land use regulations and a near-monopoly on feed.
The study, carried out last year, was presented by the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD), Michigan State University (MSU), and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Yangon yesterday.
The study focused only on freshwater fish farming, which accounts for 95 percent of Myanmar’s reported aquaculture. Myanmar is a “rice-fish” culture, the researchers said, meaning that rice provides most of the energy in the diet, and fish provides a large share of micro-nutrients.
Almost as much is spent by households on fish (14pc of total food spending) as on rice (around 19pc), the report found.
Yet only 20pc of fish consumed in Myanmar is home-grown, compared with 80pc in neighbouring Thailand and 55pc in Bangladesh.
Fish farming output from the delta, or around 90pc of farmed fish in Myanmar, rose around 250pc over the past 10 years, as overall pond area doubled and yields rose. “However, despite this rapid growth, there is little diversity in technologies used, or in the species produced. A single type of fish – the indigenous carp, rohu – constitutes roughly 70pc of all farmed fish,” the report said.
“Further product diversification will help meet local demand, especially among poorer consumers, and improve farm income and rural development in the medium term while setting the stage for possible export growth in the long term.”
Most fish farms are located within 50 kilometres (31 miles) of Yangon, and are built on paddy land – this is against the law, but in the delta farmers have circumvented regulations. In other areas such as Mon State, strict enforcement of these regulations has “stifled the development of a smallholder fish farm sector”, the report said.
Several large farms account for more than half of Myanmar’s total pond area, a far more concentrated distribution than in Thailand, Bangladesh or China. This is partly due to a lack of stable land laws – aspiring fish farmers tend not to rent privately owned land to build ponds, for fear it will be confiscated. However, there are more than 200,000 “backyard ponds” in the southern delta, built to collect rainwater but now often used to grow fish.
The report found that small and medium enterprises are springing up across every aspect of the supply chain, from ice manufacturers, to boat and truck drivers, fish traders, urban wholesale markets and fish ball processers.
Bus lines have multiplied and grown more competitive, leading researchers to believe there is potential to expand fish farming into other parts of the country if restrictions on paddy conversion are lifted.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand for farmed fish in Myanmar,” the report said.
To unleash growth, the report argues the government needs to relax regulations on land use, grant fish farmers better access to credit, increase private investment and competition in the fish feed sector, and develop hard and soft infrastructure, including roads, electricity, water control, human capital and veterinary services.
Yesterday at the launch, U Win Kyaing, secretary general of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, condemned a government tendency to over-report production.
“Both fish and shrimp production are falling and we urgently need to change to modern farming techniques, from our very traditional methods,” he said.
Rohu exports are in decline, he added. “Exports fell to 64,000 tonnes this year from 90,000 tonnes in past years.”
Land use clarification, zoning for fish and shrimp farming and an emphasis on research and development are crucial to develop the high-potential sector, he said.
U Hla Win, adviser to the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, said it would be necessary to have separate regulations on land use for agriculture and aquaculture.
“There are many restrictions under the existing land use policy,” he said.
Presidential economic adviser U Zaw Oo said the fishing industry had been badly hit by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, adding that it would be necessary to address vulnerabilities in the country and in the sector.