State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her capacity as Chairperson of the National-Level Central Committee for Prevention, Control and Treatment of COVID-19 held a videoconference yesterday morning from the Presidential Palace on the impact of COVID-19 on the livestock and fisheries sector with respect to the real situation at the ground level.
Those who participated in the discussions were: Dr Ye Tun Win, Director-General, Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation; Daw Zarchi Htay, Secretary of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation; U Thein Myint, Vice President of the Livestock Enterprises Federation and Chairman of the Poultry Producers Association.
After a few introductory remark the State Counsellor said the livestock sector has potential in the economic sense; livestock breeding is connected with the economy as well as with the health of the people; milk products are being imported from abroad; if these could be produced inside the country it would be very good; according to research studies, milk is the best nutrition that can make children grow tall; if children can consume milk and eggs on a regular basis they would grow well and become healthy; eggs and fish are also good for the health of people; the oil found in some varieties of fish is especially good for health.
She said she wanted the livestock sector to develop in the post-COVID period; if the livestock sector develops it would be very supportive for the health of the people as well as for the economy of the country. She wanted to know what is being done to speed up the development of the livestock sector and how to acquire more markets; she said it would be necessary to improve the quality of our products to get good markets.
She said she wanted Dr Ye Tun Win to explain to the people the efforts made during the COVID period for the livestock sector and also the plans made by the Union Government to develop the livestock sector with increased momentum in the post-COVID period.
Director-General Dr Ye Tun Win discussed manageable livestock business of Myanmar and it plays a key role for the income of rural families; the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department has targeted foreign markets for the domestic meats, milk and eggs, veterinary medicines, and helped in the breeding of good and modified species and good practices in animal husbandry, and coordination in the availability of input items for this industry.
He added the livestock sector declined by 40 per cent in terms of markets and demands due to suspension of commodity flow, but the ministry made constant coordination with the Myanmar Livestock Federation and the Myanmar Fisheries Federation in making livestock products reach the local consumers; despite travel restrictions amid COVID-19 outbreak, his department conducted prevention and control of animal diseases in rural areas, especially in the villages of Yangon, Bago and Ayeyawady regions, with the swine and poultry vaccinations.
He also talked about researching the coronavirus at the Veterinary Assay Laboratory in Insein, Yangon, with the help of International Atomic Energy Agency.
The African swine fever has occurred in Shan and Kachin states, and that control and investigation measures are being carried out in other areas as there is no vaccine until now for this disease. Amid the news about HIN1 swine flu in China, Myanmar is investigating this disease for three years and has not found in the country until now.
Director-General Dr Ye Tun Win also explained preparations for conducting six kinds of training courses for livestock farmers under the COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan in 118 townships and all the courses are scheduled to complete at the end of September this year.
He said that freezing facilities will be set up in Yangon, Bago and Ayeyawady regions with the US$4 million loans from the World Bank.
Daw Zarchi Htay, the Secretary of Myanmar Fisheries Federation, discussed the decrease in the demand of freshwater fisheries sector as there is no export during COVID-19 pandemic, the assistance of employers for their staff during the suspension of their business; regular supplies for local market and distributions of fish fingerlings; allocation of funds for upgrade of fishing vessels, jetties, freezing facilities and low-interest loans for prawn and fish ponds.
She continued to say that the fisheries sector has employed 3.5 million workers, which is the second to the agricultural sector in the number of jobs.
Myanmar earned US$728 million from the export of aquatic product in 2019-2020 fiscal year, and the figure has increased by $100 million in the first nine months of this FY, compared to the corresponding period of the previous term, and that the country has a lot of potentials to earn billions of dollar from fisheries export.
She also presented a five-step proposal for the development of this sector which needs appropriate policies and laws, implementation of national-level projects, signing trade MoUs with foreign countries to promote export of aquatic products, a low-interest loan programme for livestock farmers, requirements of more investments in updated policies, technologies, machinery, facilities and equipment and support from the banking sector.
Vice-President U Thein Myint from Myanmar Livestock Federation said the livestock suffered some impacts to a certain extent and the demand declined due to the closures of restaurants and food shops amid the COVID-19.
He discussed the requirement of land plots for livestock farms which cannot be set up near the residential areas, impacts of foreign investments on local farms with manageable scales, expansion of export markets, imports of frozen meats tarnishing local market, the high price of animal foods which are mainly produced for export markets and more cultivation of soya beans to reduce import of this crop.
In responding to the discussions, the State Counsellor said that if we wanted Myanmar to become a developed industrialized country based on agriculture and livestock breeding, it would be necessary to encourage the small and medium enterprises; in connection with health, people have become more interested in food; they wanted to eat more organic products which are good for health.
During the COVID period, we also need to consider how to minimize the impact of COVID on the fisheries and prawn breeding and how to make these enterprises grow in the long term; it would be necessary to create the markets ourselves; looking for markets and creating markets are quite different. Looking for markets means looking for existing markets; while creating markets or developing markets means the process of developing new products that others would wish to buy; both are important; we need to make plans for the future based on the path that our country should take; we want to encourage small and medium enterprises and small enterprises that could maintain their quality; there were many fish varieties in Myanmar; foreigners know only a few varieties of Myanmar fish; she wanted efforts to be made so that foreigners would come to know the remaining fish varieties and also look for markets. She thought that it would be very beneficial for the fishery and prawn breeding sector if value-added products could be made from fishery products which cannot last long.
In a country, law and rules are not created in a fixed and rigid manner. These could be changed according to the needs of the country; if we wanted to make changes, all points of view need to be considered; speaking from the economic point of view, everyone needed to cooperate to gain business confidence; it was necessary to create a good environment for business; speaking from the legal aspect, rule of law is very important for the country; that is why we place very high regard for rule of law; a country can be stable only if there is rule of law; only then all those who are conducting business within the country and foreigners would have a sense of security and guarantee for the future. That is why the rule of law is very important. This is closely related to the economy.
For foreign investments to come in, it is very important for our country to be able to show that we have the potential to develop from all sides. The qualifications of Myanmar workers are also very important. The majority of Myanmar workers who went to work in Thailand are mostly in fisheries-related enterprises. During the COVID period, Myanmar workers in the 100,000s returned home from Thailand. To this date, more than a thousand are coming back; there could be difficulties for Myanmar migrant workers to return to Thailand; they have qualifications; it would be beneficial for all if personal requirements and State requirements could be looked into and harmonized. The State is giving encouragement to fisheries and prawn breeding enterprises; at the same time, she wanted the entrepreneurs to participate and cooperate in job creation efforts, which is one the basic policies of the Union Government.
No matter what kind of business enterprise, they all need to take into consideration the need to encourage vocational education which is one of the basic policies of the Union Government. She wanted the public sector and the business enterprises to consider the establishment of vocational schools, and the conduct of training courses, also short-term and long-term vocational training courses in agriculture and livestock breeding.
One encouraging thing in our country is the fact that during the COVID period, everyone participated and cooperated; they all supported each other; this is one of the positive results of the COVID period; this needed to be maintained; if the lessons learnt during the COVID period could be maintained, much progress could be achieved. Fisheries and prawn breeding enterprises can be continued during the COVID period; in this type of enterprise, it is possible to follow health guidelines and regulations.
In the fisheries and prawn breeding sector, much profit could be gained if we could implement marketing initiatives to popularize fish and prawn varieties still unknown in foreign markets, make these products more desirable and increase demand. Myanmar products are very expensive in certain countries; soft shell crabs and oysters are very difficult to get and expensive in certain Western countries; if we could be more creative and work to make these products able to penetrate foreign markets and also make these products more delicious to the foreign palates, then they could become very valuable products for export.
During the past years, she has seen an increase in goat breeding; goats can be bred quite easily and they are suitable for the climate of upper Myanmar; since the people of upper Myanmar are quite familiar with goats, goat breeding was not that difficult. In Myanmar cattle breeding is not that popular; cattle breeding is important because of milk products; if milk powder and milk could be produced in Myanmar, there would be no need to import these products; Myanmar’s climate is not that different from the climates in other South East Asian countries; if cattle breeding and production of milk products is possible in these countries, there is no reason why Myanmar should not be able to do the same.
Then the State Counsellor gave her concluding remarks. She said the Union Government would take action to the best of its ability with regard to the illegal import of products from the border; in cases where there was a domestic and foreign dimension, we need to act with great caution; we still need foreign investments; we still have to depend on foreign investments; only then could our development move with momentum; therefore in certain areas, for there to be a balance between foreign and domestic investments, the domestic sector should put more efforts; to improve the qualifications of our people, it is possible to change the domestic rules and regulations to be in conformity with the times; if we impose restrictions on foreign enterprises so that they could not compete in our local markets, there would be a decline in foreign investments; then this would impact on our economic development; that is why we have to act very cautiously about this matter; we want our domestic enterprises to develop; to be able to depend on local industries is the best.
When we have to depend a great deal on foreign experts when they cannot come, our factories could not continue to run; we if had sufficient local experts we would not have these problems; it is not because we want to depend on them, it is because we still do not have sufficient experts within the country and that is why we have to depend on foreign experts to a certain extent; foreign investors will come only if they saw profit; foreign investors will not come if they did not see any possibility of making a profit; it is important to be able to attract foreign investors with suitable incentives.
To stop the flow of illegal and low-quality imports from the border areas, we will take action from the aspect of promoting rule of law as much as possible. All of us should make collective efforts to uplift the quality of local products; this matter could not be done solely by the Union Government; what the Union Government could do is in the education area; the Union Government must uplift the skills and qualifications of the people through the education sector; entrepreneurs should also take the responsibility to a certain extent, to increase the skills of the workers on the job and to ensure that they develop and improve their skills in a continuous manner. They should see the workers in their factories as valuable citizens of the future; their skills should improve while they work, they should take interest in their work; for a worker to be able to perform properly with efficiency, he must value his work and also take pride in his work.
Entrepreneurs should see their workers as persons who have great potential for the country; they should not forget this vision and in fact, nurture it. The Union Government on its part will work to get loans, make rules and regulations as needed, and make amendments to laws as necessary as much as possible. The Union Government will see to it that there is sufficient water supply and also take care with regard to rules and regulations, laws and loans. Our border is indeed long; we have borders with more than one country; because of this it has not been possible till now to make the whole country safe and secure; this is something we are working on; there is much illegal trade; to deter this type of trade we have to work full time; as our economy develops our ability to stop these activities will also increase; to make efforts for having adequate security depends on our financial resources. In the final analysis, a country’s development depends on the quality of its citizens, skill and qualifications and their participation and cooperation.
As we participate in this discussion in connection with COVID-19, there is something which we should feel encouraged for our country. Our country is not rich and yet we are able to control COVID effectively up till now. New cases of infection are among those who returned from abroad. It has been a while since we found any cases of local infection. In other countries, if there were no cases of infection for more than two weeks, there were countries which declare that they are free from COVID. Our country cannot say like this. Although there were no local cases of the infection our citizen got infected abroad. She said she believed that the reason Myanmar was able to control COVID was due to the cooperation of everyone. Businessmen and entrepreneurs made donations as much as they could; the Union Government also did its best to assist; even from the very beginning when we commenced our work we found that it was not enough to look at the problem from the health point of view only. We knew that we had to look from the economic point of view also. The reason why we are still able to survive is that we made preparations at the early stage with the vision that COVID-19 will have a great deal of impact on the economy.
She has kept reminding that this COVID matter is still not finished; this challenge has not reached its end-stage; we must still struggle and keep up our efforts; the Union Government will work hard to make sure that those who return from abroad will get jobs; business entrepreneurs should also help as needed; if everyone participated and cooperated, in the long run it will be for the benefit of all; we need to work so that our citizens no longer need to go abroad to seek for jobs and also to ensure that local enterprises will get more qualified workers and increase their productive capacity; this is beneficial for both parties; the Union Government on its part will work as much as possible for the benefit of everyone; in working thus, we do not take the side of anyone; workers as well as entrepreneurs are our citizens; they are children of our country; from the Union Government’s side we are very happy to hear such frank discussions; you should be able to tell the Union Government all your needs and requirements. In life, the reason you have to struggle is to uplift your qualifications and skills; also to build up your endurance.
Although our country is not rich, you should not feel disheartened. Our country’s hope is our strength to struggle with the participation and cooperation of everyone. It is not only our hope it is also our guarantee for the future. She said she was very grateful to all the participants for their participation; we will note down all the discussions of this videoconference. She requested all relevant departments to study all the points of discussion and take action with due regard. She then wished good health to all the participants.