Sunday, August 20, 2017

ADB-backed mass irrigation project on track to begin work during Q1 next year

A multi-million-dollar agriculture project designed to upgrade irrigation networks in some of Myanmar’s driest areas is expected to be approved by the end of the year, aiming to commence construction in the first quarter of 2017, the Asia Development Bank’s Myanmar country director, Winfried Wicklein, confirmed yesterday.

A farmer tends to her rice field. Photo: AFPA farmer tends to her rice field. Photo: AFP

The project, which is expected to benefit close to 28,000 households in Magwe, Mandalay and Sagaing regions, will see improvements to irrigation systems across about 90,000 hectares of farmland, the ADB boss said.

“The project is in its final stages of approval. It is has been endorsed by Cabinet and is now being reviewed by Parliament,” he said in an email. “We are targeting the end of November 2016 for approval by ADB’s Board.”

The ADB will loan $75 million to the project, while the French Development Agency will lend an additional 25 million euros ($27.9 million) and the European Union with contribute an extra 20 million euro grant, Mr Wicklein added.

“The project will promote more effective and efficient water use and delivery to facilitate diversification into more profitable and higher value crops in feasible areas of the systems,” he said.

Following a meeting last month between the ADB and the new Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, U Aung Thu, a spokesperson said that feasibility studies in the Magwe and Mandalay regions, where the first phase of the project is begin, were well advanced.

“The project will be about adding value to the agricultural supply chain, upgrading water management and infrastructure,” said U Myo Win Than, a deputy secretary at the ministry.

Mon, Kayah, Rakhine and Chin states will be supported by the project after Magwe and Mandalay, he said.

The ADB began working with the previous government on the project in 2013, saying at the time that agriculture sector was producing well below its potential.

A recent report from the World Bank found that just 3 million hectares, or 15 percent of agricultural area, in Myanmar had access to public irrigation. This compares to 30pc of crop area in Thailand and Indonesia, 50pc in China, and 70pc in Vietnam.

In its recently released economic policy outline, the new government has pledged to provide farmers with greater access to credit, strengthen land ownership and boost exports.

“At the moment agricultural productivity is way below potential,” Sean Turnell, an economic adviser to the government, said during an interview with The Myanmar Times last month. “There are many reasons for that: insecurity of land tenure, also the problems with supply chain, marketing systems, mills, storage facilities,” he said.

The ADB’s Wicklein said that the project’s remit included training for farmers to improve crop diversification, instructions on water management to enhance yields, providing market data and links with the private sector to aid market access.