28 JUN 2020 - Source: Mizzima - The World Bank's Board of Executive Directors have approved a $200 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) to increase agricultural productivity and diversification and enhance market access for Myanmar farmers, with a strong focus on inclusion for smallholder farmers, women and other vulnerable groups.

Measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Myanmar—including the temporary shutdown of wet markets and animal feed factories, movement restrictions, the disruption of logistics and transport systems, and tightened restrictions on cross-border flows—has created disruptions in the agriculture and food system. Supply chain disruptions have resulted in market losses and increased feed costs to poultry farmers, small enterprises, and meat producers.

According to the Myanmar Economic Monitor, released by the World Bank on June 25, economic growth is estimated to drop from 6.8 percent in FY18/19 to just 0.5 percent in FY2019/20, with significant downside risks. Agriculture is the source of livelihood for nearly 70 percent of the population and accounts for nearly 30 percent of national GDP and merchandise exports. It is the main sector of employment for the poor with 85 percent of the rural population living in a household with one or more members engaged in agriculture.

The National Food and Agriculture System Project will support parts of the government's COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan (CERP), which aims to mitigate the economic impacts of COVID-19 and facilitate the country's economic recovery.

The project will support income retention for farmers by improving the quality and utilization of agricultural inputs, and generate labor-intensive cash-for work-activities to create jobs for poor households, in particular for migrants returning to Myanmar after losing jobs abroad due to the pandemic. The project will also support public awareness raising on COVID-19 through social media and other channels.

"Poverty among agricultural households could increase by two to four million people, if incomes continue to decline for another three to six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Mariam Sherman, World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR. "Through this project, the World Bank is committed to helping the Government of Myanmar in the critical work of protecting agricultural livelihoods and helping the agriculture and food sector fully recover from the current crisis."

As the country moves into the recovery stage, the project will help develop digital extension services to raise awareness about food safety risks, strengthen digital agriculture technologies, develop online transaction platforms for agricultural goods, and help link farmers with markets through increased product diversification and agricultural research and development systems.

Medium to longer term support will contribute to strategic priorities of the Myanmar government to improve governance, productivity, competitiveness, and enhancing research capacity for improved adoption of climate-resilient and environmentally sound technologies and practices. The project will also help the sector to become resilient to future global shocks by investing in testing and international standard certification facilities that would enable access to a wider set of global markets. It is estimated that the project will reach about 560,000 beneficiaries, of whom 220,000 are women.

The World Bank Group, one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response. We are supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. We will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support over 15 months to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery. This includes $50 billion of new IDA resources through grants and highly concessional loans.

The World Bank in April this year provided a $50 million loan for the Myanmar COVID-19 Emergency Response Project to help Myanmar fill a critical gap in its contingency plan to urgently increase hospital preparedness and surge capacity in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect health workers, and treat patients. Myanmar also receives an $8 million grant from the World Bank Group's Global Pandemic Emergency Facility (PEF) to support surge response in the health sector, with special attention on benefiting the most vulnerable groups and communities in conflict- affected areas and ethnic health providers.