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Door opens to Myanmar

With solid support from the highest levels of government and new projects soon to start, AVRDC is ready to extend its expertise to Myanmar, a nation emerging from isolation.

For decades, Myanmar has been cut off from much of the world, and travel there has been difficult. AVRDC’s germplasm could get in, but not its senior management.

Then, from 16-20 March 2015, AVRDC Director General Dyno Keatinge, Deputy DG for Research Jackie Hughes, Regional Director for South Asia Warwick Easdown and Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia Fen Beed were finally able to visit Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar’s new capital, to explore opportunities for new projects and staff placements in the country.

Despite their isolation, Myanmar scientists have produced eight new tomato varieties and hybrids based on AVRDC germplasm. However, their greatest success has been with mungbean, which is now a major cash crop. Myanmar is one of the world’s largest exporters of the legume, but this success is threatened by the spread of Mungbean yellow mosaic virus.

AVRDC will soon start a five-year project to improve mungbean breeding and seed production in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India with funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

The AVRDC team spent a morning in detailed discussions with the Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation, His Excellency U Myint Hlaing, after visiting a government demonstration vegetable farm. “There is a new window for collaboration especially at the technical level,” the minister said. He emphasized Myanmar’s abundant natural resources, the importance of expanding vegetable production, and the government’s strong commitment to encouraging private sector investment. He was extremely supportive of AVRDC’s involvement in strengthening the vegetable sector, and later put this in writing with the endorsement of the Vice President. The visit also received national TV coverage.

“We could not have asked for a more positive start to our relationship with Myanmar,” said Dyno Keatinge. “Our hosts could not have been more helpful.” While the ACIAR mungbean project will lay the foundation, Dyno said, “we are also seeking additional projects and are committed to having a permanent AVRDC staff presence in Myanmar in the very near future.”

Hosted by Dr. Tun Shwe, Head of the Food Legumes Crop Section, and Director Thant Lwin Oo, the AVRDC team visited black gram and melon farmers around Nay Pyi Taw. They also travelled north to Yamethin district in the central dry zone of Myanmar to visit mungbean seed production fields run by the Department of Agricultural Research.

Dr. Shwe emphasized the importance of mungbean as a cash crop for farmers, “particularly in this year, as many rice crops have failed due to drought, and farmers have changed their cropping pattern.”

Myanmar vegetable production is severely constrained by a lack of skilled government horticulturalists, with only 24 scientific staff to service the needs of the whole country. The new Director General of the Department of Agricultural Research, Dr. Ye Tint Tun, strongly endorsed the growing relationship between AVRDC and Myanmar, and opportunities for both capacity building of his staff as well as technical collaboration.

Jackie Hughes and Dyno Keatinge with

Jackie Hughes and Dyno Keatinge view vegetable displays in genebank with Dr. Ye Tint Tun, Director General of the Department of Agricultural Research.

Myanmar farmers harvesting black gram.

Myanmar farmers harvesting black gram.

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Fen, Warwick and mungbean seed growers in Yamethin district, north of Nay Pyi Taw.