Manila-based SL Agritech Corp. (SLAC) is gearing up to expand its hybrid rice production in Myanmar, after the success of its pioneering season in premium commercial rice.
As one of the world’s biggest rice exporters before World War II when it was then under British rule, Myanmar has more than 17 million hectares of uncultivated land that can be planted with rice.
It has wider flat lands compared to other major rice exporting countries, making it a viable prospect for locally developed hybrid varieties.
“The opportunity in rice farming in Myanmar is vast as Myanmar. With a more fertile land, less fertilizer will be needed in order to gain a higher target-yield,” SLAC Chairman Henry Lim Bon Liong said in a statement.
Lim said SLAC’s pioneering season of the SL-8H variety (Shwe Lar-SL-8H in Myanmar) yielded more than 150 metric tons of seed per hectare on a 100-hectare site in Yangon’s Dagon Township.
Also planted were commercial table grade rice SL-7H (Dona Maria Jasponica) on 11 hectares, SL-9H (Miponica) on 28 hectares, and SL-8H on 20 hectares.
“With production cost 50 percent lower compared to the Philippines, Myanmar is a viable production site for the Philippines’ hybrid rice exports,” Lim said.
“We can export our Dona Maria Jasponica and Miponica rice from Myanmar. Consumers in Myanmar may not want soft and sticky rice, but that’s our opportunity to export rice harvested from there,” he added.
Another advantage for Myanmar is its preferential zero tariffs for European countries, Lim noted.
Other potential export destinations for Dona Maria rice from Myanmar are China and the United States. When exported, the Filipino brand name Dona Maria premium rice will be retained for consistency in the world market.
Lim said they are now working with microfinance leader CARD, through CARD Myanmar Co. Ltd., to expand program.
From years of less liberalized military rule that started to reform in 2010-2011, the microfinance firm started operating in Myanmar in light of trade and agriculture developments there.
The pilot planting in Myanmar was under a joint venture between private companies Nine Seas, led by Aung Tan, and Filipino Norberto Ong’s Water Stone.
“Our immediate plans for commercial hybrid rice operation in Myanmar includes the creation of sales and marketing team to sell harvested 120-150 MT of SL-8H seeds in Myanmar, and the installation of a cooling system in one of the warehouses of Mr. Norberto Ong to ensure the quality of SL-8H seeds,” he said.
SL Agritech plans to partner with the local government units as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to train farmers and demonstrate the use of technology in major rice producing areas. The goal is to create awareness among Myanmar farmers and stakeholders.
Dr. Frisco M. Malabanan, SLAC technical consultant, said they may reduce seed production for the next planting season from 100 hectares to 50 hectares due to a shortage of agriculture workers in Myanmar.
He said the company will bring Filipino machine operators to Myanmar to help with land preparations for at least a month.
“The area is very good for seed production. There’s enough water. The soil is very fertile and can be easily mechanized. The main problem is lack of skilled labor,” he added.
Malabanan noted they are now seeking partnership with Myanmar’s Ministry of Agriculture for policy support and training of local farmers and laborers as part of the expansion program.