Myanmar has potential to develop an organic market that will help to boost the value of local crops produced for export purposes and farmers’ standards of living.

In fact, farmers in Myanmar already use less chemical fertilisers and pesticides compared to their neighbours, yet many are reluctant to venture into the organic market owing to transport hindrances and high costs, said U Wann Tin, owner of Sein Le Oo Organic Farm, which produces organic mushrooms. “Farmers here are aware of the dangers and are already avoiding the use of chemicals when planting fruits or vegetables,” U Wann Tin said.

Organic foods are defined as foods that must be free of artificial food additives and are often processed with fewer artificial methods, materials and conditions such as chemical ripening, food irradiation, and genetically modified ingredients. There is potential for local farmers to export organic produce for better profit margins. “There is a good market for organic products from developed markets like Japan, the US and Europe,” Mr. Wallop Pitchpongsa, CEO of Top Organic Products & Supplies Co, said at the Organic and Natural Expo in Thailand last month.

Currently, Thailand is one of the largest exporters of organic foods among ASEAN. “We are seeing very good demand for organic fruits and vegetable products from the developed countries, but we cannot meet all the demand because we do not have enough human resources,” he said. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam have the potential and opportunity to fill that gap because there is ample land available for organic farming, he added.

High costs

Currently though, there are just a handful of organic companies in Myanmar. Because organic crops are generally more expensive than non-organic crops, the organic market in Myanmar is still small. “Farmers here are aware of the dangers of chemicals, but they still must use lots of pesticides and preservatives to keep the foods fresh when transported from rural to urban areas. It is more expensive to store and transport organic produce so up until now, farmers have planted organically for sale only in nearby areas,” said U Wann Tin.

He added that consumers in Myanmar are still not thinking about whether the fruits and vegetables they buy are organic or not. “They are more concerned about buying at an affordable price. So, the market for organic food is still not developed or widespread in Myanmar,” U Wann Tin said.

Certified organic

Organic produce must also be certified for quality before being cleared for sale in overseas markets.

So far though, only three companies have been certified organic by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Among them are Sein Le Oo Organic Farm. Meanwhile, Genius Shan Highlands Coffee, which produces organic coffee, is recognised as an organic company by the Myanmar government as well as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), its managing director, Ma Lay Lay Myint, told The Myanmar Times.

“Even though Myanmar does not use much chemicals, its farmers do not have certificates to guarantee their products are organic,” said Mr Wuttipong Krobbuaban, managing director of Phuchiangta Organic Co. “But if the farmers have organic certificates, they can export to other countries and Myanmar can become a good organic market like Thailand,” he added. It may take a long while yet before local farmers warm up to the idea though.

That’s because “it is very costly to obtain an international organic certificate. I spent US$2,500 to get a certificate from the USDA and spent a similar amount to get a European certificate,” said Mr Wuttipong. “Organic foods are pricy because a lot of money is spent paying for those certificates.” “We cannot create an export market in Myanmar with only three farms. To do so, we need farmers to cooperate to plant large amounts of the same organic fruit or vegetable,” said U Wann Tin.