Rakhine Winter Crops Project, Myanmar

The Rakhine Winter Crop Project (RWCP) funded by New Zealand’s Aid Program was designed to target Rakhine State’s low agricultural productivity by promoting dry season crop production.

Rakhine State lies on the west coast of Myanmar, alongside the Bay of Bengal, bordering Bangladesh to the north. The project has offices in Sittwe (North) and Thandwae (South), serving numerous village clusters.

Rakhine is a State of extreme wet (5 metre rainfall!) and dry climatic seasons, predominately poor quality, acid clay soils, relative isolation, long distances to larger markets, political isolation and civil unrest.

Developing commercial agriculture (vegetables) amidst mostly poor subsistence rice farmers in adverse climatic and soil conditions presents an extreme challenge.

TASK: As International Marketing and Value Chain Strengthening Specialist, Jock Struthers was engaged for three months in 2016 to assess crop market potential and value chain requirements.

The assignment required a survey of farmers, processors, input suppliers and markets by a team of local personnel.

Quality and seasonal market prices were assessed through interviews with numerous local market vendors.

SURVEY: 16 villages were visited and 209 farmers interviewed to assess their needs and farming operations. Vendors in local and distant Pyay and Yangon markets were interviewed as were traders, hotels and restaurants, processors of blackgram and peanut oil.

OBSERVATION: It was soon apparent that local Rakhine produce observed in all markets was generally of inferior quality and vendors reported unreliable availability. As a result, market produce in Rakhine markets is mostly imported over the mountains from Pyay or from distant Yangon through well-established networks.

PROJECT CHALLENGE: The overriding project challenge was to develop reliable commercial production, sufficient to attract local market vendors to source local product over established import networks.

No immediate competitive advantage was seen in economically supplying vegetables to major internal markets such as Yangon, currently well served from closer and more suitable growing areas.

Quality issues: - Red tomatoes on the right have been imported, inferior local product at lower prices are displayed in the three baskets to the left.

Markets: Few local market vendors make any effort to market their produce. The woman on the right however made coleslaw packages (in plastic bags) and displayed produce above ground in clean containers. She also displayed cut cabbages to show internal quality. It was recommended that the project seek to work with these more progressive vendors to further improve their displays, featuring / promoting local produce.

Commercial Peanut growers (for oil) – Southern Rakhine

Commercial Production: Primitive production systems need to be overcome in order to grow commercial crops of consistent quality. The field crop Blackgram with a strong market in India is hand harvested, sun dried in the field, then crushed with ox-drawn roller before being hand sorted, as shown in the photos (right). This combined with poor dry acid soils results in the lowest quality of all States according to Blackgram exporters in Yangon. Mechanisation, reduction in soil acidity, improved technical knowledge and irrigation will be required to lift the poor quality and productivity to export standards.


  • This project overemphasises the need for early market development and identification of “winning” crops.
  • Choosing “winners” on gross margin calculations using production and price data drawn from highly varying and unreliable farmer memory in order to minimise the risk of financial failure is “head in the sand” folly.
  • Vegetable markets can’t realistically be developed ahead of supply. No crop gross margin calculation can guarantee future commercial success. A diversified range of crops to trial within farm rotations using improved seed and technology were recommended based on observations of farms and markets.
  • Vegetable farming is arguably the most challenging of all horticultural enterprises with the need to consistently meet market supply and quality requirements. This requires producer expertise and use of appropriate technologies, irrigation etc to meet the challenges of seasonal climatic and price fluctuations, floods, droughts, weeds, pests and diseases.
    Few farm families surveyed had the experience, knowledge or financial ability to meet these challenges.
  • The RWCP was developed without reference to the experience and lessons learned in the very successful, ongoing, NZAID CADF Cambodian vegetable project. By ignoring the CADF lessons, RWCP is unlikely to achieve expected results.
  • The needs of farm families in Rakhine State will not be met by this project. For many the needs are very basic e.g. supply of quality drinking water, vegetables and food to firstly provide for self-sufficiency and improved diets. In the north, civil unrest and isolation provides additional problems and all areas lack suitable supporting infrastructure – roads, wharves etc.
  • Rather than initially working with a few leading farmers and establishing demonstration farms to train and develop staff while trialling improved vegetable varieties and new technologies, the RWCP places excessive emphasis on Farmer Field Schools with poor information, raising expectations. There were insufficient plans to introduce and demonstrate new technologies, the basis of CADF’s success.
  • By comparison CADF began with a higher level of farmer expertise and local infrastructure, yet it took almost five years to establish their successful format. The job is harder in Rakhine State. RWCP expectations do not appear to recognise this. The requirement to reach numbers quickly ignores the reality of the situation.
  • These conclusions and associated recommendations did not meet with favour, so time will tell!

The large Yangon vegetable market is well supplied with good quality produce from closer, established farming areas.

Four of 16 group meetings followed by 209 individual interviews.

Survey team in training for farmer interviews.

Flowers were observed being grown in many villages supplying strong local markets. Although not favoured by the project, it was recommended that they be included amongst the vegetable rotations to add to regular family income.

Commercial Production?




Women from the RWCP project area collecting water from village ponds, also shared with livestock. North Rakhine.


Produce is transported by boat – North Rakhine

Onion wholesaler being interviewed in Pyay

There will be a need to establish village cluster produce consolidation hubs as seen above in a village in a well-established farming area near distant Pyay – here preparing quality long beans for the Yangon Market.