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Evolution or Revolution: Imagining a future for Burma’s rural economy

Dr Michael Marett-Crosby
DASSK Trust for Health and Education


Panel Abstract

Agriculture is the most important sector of the Burmese economy. Some 70% of the country’s population live and work in rural areas. The success or failure of Burma’s transformation may well depend upon changes in the rural economy.

Despite its huge potential, the sector has underperformed for more than half a century. Once a rice exporting country, Burma now has significant pockets of food shortage – 29% of rural households are below the national poverty line, and more than one third of households have to borrow money to purchase food. Compared to other countries in the region, agricultural workers earn less than their neighbours, and 32% of children are malnourished.

Yet the possibilities are huge. It has considerable water resources and a diverse topography for rice, cereals, livestock, fruits and fish. Many futures are possible – the examples of Vietnam, Thailand and Bangladesh provide contrasting models from the region.

How can agricultural performance be improved and rural incomes raised? What long term institutional and policy reforms are necessary in areas like land holding, infrastructure and deregulation? How can farmers be financed to innovate? Does Burma need a revolution in its agriculture, or are their skills and strengths that need to be encouraged?

This panel is a space for imagining what the future of Burma’s rural economy might look like, what are its opportunities and pitfalls. Participants will be invited to give short presentations in a roundtable format, with opportunities for discussion and debate.


  • What are the strengths, if any, of the current rural economy in Burma?
  • What lessons are available from Burma’s neighbours?
  • What new public resources might be necessary to effect change?
  • How can microfinance or other approaches be made to work for the Burmese farmer?
  • What is the role for education?
  • How can land access be reformed?


  • Professor Sean Turnell (Macquarie University)
  • Dr Sandar Win (University of Bedford)
  • Dr Bob Bloomfield OBE
  • Dr Myint Oo
  • Mr Dil Peeling (Compassion in World Farming)
  • Mr Robert Yates (DfID/WHO)