Fleeing farmers to worsen food crisis in conflict-riven Myanmar

Labourers load banana leafs on a truck in Yangon on Sept 13, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

NAYPYIDAW – The food security crisis in Myanmar is deepening due to loss of farmland as a result of conflict and plunging crop yields, prompting families to cut back on meal portions or switch to cheaper and less nutritious food.

Inflation is rising in the military junta-controlled country, while humanitarian needs have intensified as fighting continues. As well as high fertilizer and fuel costs that have hurt agricultural production, loss of farmland and harvests will play an even bigger role in worsening food insecurity, according to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Myanmar Country Director Stephen Anderson.

“Conflict and food insecurity unfortunately always co-exist,” Mr Anderson said in an interview. “Conflict drives people to run for safety leaving behind their farmland, and disrupts and undermines livelihoods.”

More than 1.3 million people are displaced in Myanmar, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Food costs jumped 64 per cent last month from a year ago, putting staples like rice and cooking oil increasingly out of reach for many. About a quarter of the population of 55 million are food insecure, with some taking on debt to buy basic necessities, Mr Anderson added.

Poverty and hunger 

Globally, high food prices due to the war in Ukraine and soaring energy costs have pushed millions into poverty, magnifying hunger and malnutrition. The humanitarian situation in Myanmar will put a strain on resources already stretched in view of Ukraine, Afghanistan and other crises, Mr Anderson said. 

The Southeast Asian nation is grappling with soaring inflation and shrinking foreign-currency reserves amid international sanctions following the military coup in 2021. Last week, the Financial Action Task Force blacklisted Myanmar, which joined North Korea and Iran on its high-risk list, for failure to address illicit financial flows. Entities and individuals in Myanmar will now face enhanced due diligence from global financial institutions. 

The WFP has difficulties delivering assistance in Myanmar because of road blockades and travel restrictions. It also faces a funding gap of US$72 million (S$101 million) over the next six months to ensure support to 4 million beneficiaries. Some food and cash aid may be disrupted in the coming months, Mr Anderson said.

“We are forced to make difficult decisions in terms of prioritisation,” he said. “Effectively, we will have to choose which families will receive our support, and which families will go without.” BLOOMBERG

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