Blessed with a warm climate and an abundance of land, Burma traditionally has been a country where no one starved. Before World War II, it was the world's leading exporter of rice. Agriculture remains the most important sector in the Burmese economy, employing 63 percent of the labor force and producing 57 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (2000 figures). Agricultural products still predominate among Burma's exports, despite the increasing importance of energy exports. Most Burmese farmers are smallholders, their croplands averaging no more than two hectares (five acres). Three types of cultivated land are found: well-watered alluvial lowlands, located in and around the deltas of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady), Sittang (Sittoung), and Salween (Thanlwin) Rivers and in coastal areas of Arakan State, where paddy rice is grown; the Dry Zone of central Burma along the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy, where water is insufficient for wet-rice cultivation (outside of irrigated areas, such as Kyaukse) and crops, such as oil seeds (sunflower and sesame), beans and pulses, sugar palms, maize, ground nuts (peanuts), and cotton are grown; and upland areas, especially near the borders with Thailand, China, and India, where ethnic minorities practice shifting cultivation (taung-ya or hill-clearing, though the Shans are cultivators of paddy rice). In upland areas, hillside vegetation is cleared, usually by burning, to prepare relatively poor soils for the cultivation of dry rice, buckwheat, or maize in a cycle of subsistence farming that is repeated every few years. In Shan and Kachin States, the most important agricultural export has been raw and processed opium, though cultivation and export of opiates have declined in recent years because of drug-eradication policies. Tropical and subtropical fruits are grown throughout the country. The pungent-smelling durian is perhaps the most widely esteemed, though strawberries grown around Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin) are also popular.
   Burma's agricultural potential is huge because much arable land remains undeveloped or underutilized. The introduction of high-yield varieties of rice and other crops in the mid-1970s increased production, but the increases were not sustained during the 1980s because of the essentially coercive nature of the Whole Township Extension Program and insufficient inputs, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and farm mechanization (water buffalo or cattle are still widely used for plowing). Coercive state procurement of rice and other crops at artificially low prices has not given farmers incentives to be productive. Moreover, only about 13 percent of total arable land is irrigated, though the State Peace and Development Council has carried out a crash program in dam construction. Agriculture in nonirrigated areas is dependent upon the seasonal monsoon, making it hostage to periodic flooding and drought. To increase agricultural exports and earn hard currency, the military regime has promoted expansion of arable land, double cropping, and the development of large-scale "agribusinesses." In the early 21st century, Burma faces an increasingly serious food security problem because of deforestation (causing floods and soil erosion), degradation of soils (partly because of double cropping and lack of fertilizers), and a chronically inefficient distribution system left over from the Burma Socialist Programme Party era. In contrast to the abundant past, malnutrition in both urban and rural areas is now widespread, especially among children.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.


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