Australian research identifies food and nutrition challenges for rural Myanmar

19 November 2016

The University of Sydney has spearheaded the first Australian-led survey of food security in rural Myanmar, and one of the very few international investigations into this topic to have been permitted by the Government of Myanmar since the country's relaxation of international relations since 2011.

The issue of food security in Myanmar is politically sensitive, in light of the uneven development of different parts of the country during recent decades as a result of internal conflicts.

The absence of independent sources of information about the incidence of hunger and malnutrition has meant that the UN's Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has excluded data from Myanmar in its global assessments of food insecurity.

Data from the University of Sydney project is being fed to the Government of Myanmar and international agencies such as the FAO and World Food Program in order to establish baseline estimates of the scale of food insecurity in rural Myanmar, and to assess the links between household diets and relevant social and economic variables such as agricultural land ownership, access to wage labour, and the role of women within household decision-making.

The researchers have identified key factors that contribute to household food and nutrition security in rural Myanmar.

It is hoped that Australian Honours, PhD and postdoctoral students will contribute to the project from 2017.

Preliminary results from the first stage of a three-year research project were released on recently in Yangon. The researchers presented results from a survey of 3,200 households across 120 villages in Magway Division, Ayeyarwady Division and Chin State, which they undertook in February-April 2016.This research, funded through the Australian Research Council, involves collaboration between the University of Sydney, the University of Western Australia, and two Myanmar universities - the University of Public Health, Yangon, and the University of Community Health, Magway.

The University of Sydney's role in the project is managed by Professor Bill Pritchard, a Human Geographer in the School of Geosciences, and Professor Michael Dibley, of the School of Public Health. Professor Pritchard explained that the survey showed that households that owned agricultural land tended to have better dietary diversity and less anxiety about food shortages than households without land.

"However, our research found that slightly more than 50 percent of households we surveyed didn't hold agricultural land, and these households seem to be the bearers of food and nutrition insecurity in rural Myanmar," Professor Pritchard said.

An important finding from the research was the crucial role of kitchen gardens.

Among households not owning agricultural land, those that grew vegetables and fruit in a kitchen garden exhibited superior dietary diversity than those without.

"More analysis of these data needs to occur, but our results regarding the importance of kitchen gardens appears to hold considerable relevance for government agencies and NGOs in Myanmar working to secure better nutrition among the rural population", Professor Pritchard said.

The research was presented in October 2016 at a workshop at the University of Public Health, Yangon, attended by approximately 50 invited guests from government, NGO and research communities.

Professor Pritchard noted: "This research is ongoing. The next stage of the project is to conduct detailed interviews with households in our surveyed communities, in order to get a better understanding of the background reasons that explain these results."

For more information: Professor Bill Pritchard +61 418 231 427