Although overall crop production was satisfactory last year in Myanmar due to increased harvests in areas not impacted by the devastating Cyclone Nargis, a new United Nations report cautioned that access to food is still a problem for the most vulnerable people in the South-East Asian nation.
Last May’s cyclone, which claimed nearly 140,000 lives, destroyed the rice harvest in the Ayeyarwady delta area and production is expected to be half of what it was in 2007, according to the publication issued jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
But output in unaffected areas is forecasted to be close to or better than last year. Thanks to favourable weather conditions and the increased use of better rice seeds, the cereal output is expected to top 21 million metric tons, which is 3 per cent below the previous year but 10 per cent above the average of the last five years.
The report warned that Myanmar’s poorest people have difficulties accessing available food, with food insecurity a problem in some areas of the delta region and high malnutrition levels in the northern and more remote states.
It noted that over 5 million people fall below the food poverty line in Myanmar, and that emergency food aid is still needed in cyclone-affected areas.
“For many of those affected by Cyclone Nargis, who are engaged in rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, the limited delta harvest means they will continue to rely on assistance to meet their food needs,” said Chris Kaye, WFP Representative for Myanmar.
The impact of the cyclone on the livestock and fishing sectors is expected to continue to be felt beyond this year, the new report said.
“Humanitarian assistance has not restored the production capacity of small [and] medium-sized farms,” said He Changchui, FAO’s Asia-Pacific regional chief. “Farmers and fishers are unlikely to self-finance their needs this year, thus entering into a spiral of pauperization of the delta.”
The UN agencies, which visited Myanmar from 5 October to 4 November 2008, stressed the importance of providing inputs such as seeds, draught animals, hand tractors and fishing equipment.
According to the 2007 UN Human Development Report, Myanmar, one of the least developed countries (LDCs), ranks 132nd among 177 nations on the Human Development Index.