Researchers, policymakers, and development partners from the U.S. and the region held a two-day conference in Yangon this week, the purpose of which was to share knowledge to more rapidly reduce hunger and malnutrition in Myanmar and other countries in Asia.
Data from the 2015 Demographic and Health Survey for Myanmar show that almost one-third of rural children under age five are stunted. These children are not growing or developing properly due to malnutrition. At the same time many are eating less nutritious, over-processed food and convenience products. Poor nutrition choices lead to weight gain and place people at risk for heart disease and cancer.
“The private sector can contribute to reducing hunger and improving access to nutritious foods in Myanmar and throughout Asia,” said U Kyaw Swe Linn, Director General, Department of Planning of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation. “Myanmar sits between major global markets in need of quality food products. Myanmar should be very attractive to private investors,” he added.
Myanmar has seen recent growth in medium-sized companies operating commercial farms and processing enterprises. These companies often lack access to modern technology and the “know-how” needed to meet quality standards. They have the potential to supply high-value, nutritious products to growing domestic and export markets.
“Everyone needs access to healthy, affordable foods. Myanmar can achieve its full potential for prosperity if the rapid changes in the agricultural sector include all groups. Governments and private-sector actors working together can accomplish this,” said U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director Teresa McGhie.
The International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) ReSAKSS-Asia program and the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID) are facilitating the conference, with support from USAID.
“Myanmar’s national plan of action for nutrition recognizes that malnutrition is a complex, multi-sectoral problem,” said Duncan Boughton, Michigan State University Professor and Advisor to Myanmar’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation. The simultaneous rise of overnutrition with the lingering prevalence of undernutrition within the same countries, and sometimes even in the same households, is known as the double-burden of contemporary malnutrition. Agriculture, food system and nutrition policies are increasingly complex and interconnected.
New technologies have been tested throughout Asia. These technologies are helping to deliver foods with better nutritional value. Fortification of staple foods and biofortification of crops reduces harmful health conditions like anemia and improves cognitive development. This has been demonstrated in both Pakistan and Indonesia.
“We have examples of policies and programs from throughout Asia that have proven effective in reducing malnutrition” says Xinshen Diao, co-leader of ReSAKSS-Asia, a regional knowledge-sharing network facilitated by IFPRI. “By empowering key actors and sharing with each other those successful experiences, we accelerate implementation. That is why this event is so important.”
“The U.S. Embassy in Rangoon is dedicated to promoting Myanmar’s prosperity and better health is an essential ingredient of that prosperity. We support the transition to a more inclusive and open economy. Increasing bilateral trade and investment is also part of our commitment to the people of Myanmar. We recognize the importance of regional cooperation and engagement of public and private sectors to realize a more prosperous future for all,” said USAID Director McGhie.