Guest Column

Making Myanmar’s Markets Work for Safe Farmers

By Dwight Jason Ronan 27 November 2020

It was a Saturday morning and several people have started to gather around small stalls lined up along Nat Mauk Street near Yangon’s Kandawgyi Lake. There is nothing unusual seeing a weekend market packed with shoppers, some of them fresh from their early morning walk, carrying bags of produce. But there is more to this market than meets the eye. This weekly agro-bazaar offers a wide selection of farm-fresh and certified-safe fruit and vegetables.

Called the Safe Food from Safe Farm market, this busy weekend bazaar gathers growers from Yangon and nearby regions to sell their organic- and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)-certified produce. About 20 farmers sell their goods and display the certificates they have received proving that their products are safe and clean.

Growers sell organic and GAP-certified food and other products at the market. / Supplied

Started in 2015, the market is an initiative of the Myanmar Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Producer and Exporter Association (MFVP) aimed at linking fresh producers directly to consumers and making natural and certified-safe fruit and vegetables more accessible to the public. U Hla Aung, a senior trainer at MFVP, said it started to support a more sustainable market for organic- and GAP-certified produce in Yangon. “All sellers have certifications so we can guarantee the safety of the products sold,” he said. MFVP members, especially those who participate in the weekend market, are regularly inspected to make sure they comply with the recommended practices to grow and produce safe food, he added.

“It is good that we have a sure place to sell our products every week,” said Ko Myint Zaw Oo, one of the market’s regular sellers, as he hands a bag of cabbages to a customer. “This market gives small farmers a good opportunity to directly sell our products to buyers without paying extra for middlemen or traders.”

The market for certified crops in the country is still relatively small and many consumers are still not aware of the differences between certified products and non-certified goods, Ko Myint Zaw Oo said. The weekend market helps small-scale growers sell their products and compete against bigger producers but it also serves as a venue to promote the benefits of growing and consuming safe produce, he said. “More and more residents come regularly, especially those looking for chemical-free and healthier fruit and vegetables,” Ko Myint Zaw Oo added.

Shoppers purchase products from regular sellers at the market. / Supplied

Linking farmers directly to consumers is one of MFVP’s major goals. Established in 2006, the main target of the group is to encourage and support fruit and vegetable growers to produce fresh, high-quality and safe food. To achieve this, MFVP primarily trains farmers on sustainable agricultural practices and builds networks among key supply chain players.

With over 30,000 members across the country, MFVP has established about 30 producer clusters for key cash crops, such as mangos, watermelons, pomelos, cabbages and mushrooms. The organization has also been providing technical support to farmers, including organizing training and assisting growers to comply with standards through farmer field schools and regular inspections.

To support these initiatives, many MFVP members have been invited to participate in safe food courses offered through the Mekong Institute’s Promoting Safe Food for Everyone (Prosafe) Project. Over the years, MI has worked with these safe-food champions to enhance knowledge and skills on food safety issues and assist them in sharing their skills with others, including fellow farmers.

A farm growing chemical-free fruit and vegetables. / Supplied

U Sann Linn, a senior MFVP member, has participated in several MI regional training programs in the last few years. After the courses, he led regular training for growers on GAP, effective agri-chemical management, and integrated pest management. Recently, he worked with the MFVP mango cluster in Mandalay to help farmers and processors improve the post-harvest handling of mangos for export.

In 2019, U Thet Kyaing, an organic inspector and trainer from Yangon, also joined Prosafe courses on safe post-harvest management, product packaging and labeling for processed agri-food. Utilizing the new knowledge he gained from MI, he assisted several farms in Shan State to comply with the requirements to receive organic certificates. At the same time, he initiated improvements in product labeling and packaging for his virgin coconut oil business.

At Yangon’s market, U Hla Aung said the Prosafe courses he attended have been useful in building his confidence to support more farmers to apply safer-farm practices. “Aside from learning new concepts and technologies from the experts [in MI], I really enjoyed listening to the experiences of my new friends from neighboring countries and see how those can be applied in my country,” he said. Many of the participating farmer-traders in the weekend market have joined in the sharing sessions he organized after returning from MI, U Hla Aung said.

Growers and sellers at the market. / Supplied

“This is just a start,” he said. “Since the products are not completely organic and many farmers still end up using chemicals to improve soil quality or manage pests.” But U Hla Aung hopes the Safe Food from Safe Farm initiative can generate more interest for farmers to adopt better farm practices and encourage more consumers to buy certified safe produce at reasonable prices.

“People have started spreading the word about this market and hopefully we can have the opportunity to open similar safe food markets in other cities soon,” he added.

The safe food market is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 and farmers are instead offering home deliveries. Here are two of their sites: Myanmar Organic Farm, Clean and Fresh Myanmar.

Dwight Jason Ronan is the coordinator for Mekong Institute’s Project on Promoting Safe Food for Everyone in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam.

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