Knowledge Exchange on Food Systems and Food for Change with Partners in Myanmar

13 and 20 August 2022, By Zoom Application

Background: Since the February 2021, the situation in Myanmar is under the influence of the triple C (Climate, Covid-19, and Coup) which is leading people in Myanmar into turmoil and unprecedented situations. There are on-going discussions and scenario projections that the situation might continue for 3-5 years at least, and there will be shortage on supply chain due to the economic disruption and the inflation. Therefor the Organic Network in Myanmar aims to collaborate with other partners and create a learning platform to discuss on various issues regarding food democracy such as.

Paradigm shift: Food and food system will be the main concern of the organic network in Myanmar, including other Mekong countries. Shifting from the monopoly food system to the sustainable food system, the network aims for the exchange and leaning on localization, climate adaptation, consume and producer partnership, safe food, food sovereignty, seed production, alternative consumer, and etc.

Kingkorn Narintarakul na Ayudhaya (Thailand): The co-founder and coordinator of the Food for Change Thailand- Kin Plien Loek: The key for change is realising “the most political act we do on a daily basis is choosing what to eat”. Kingkorn has long experience and vast knowledge on social movement and community development, she is also working on “food literacy”- knowledge about environmentally-friendly food production, local wisdom on food preparation and ingredients and healthy eating habits. 

Food Systems: Talking about Eating (13 August 2022)

The sharing and discussion began with the questions on

  • What are we eating?
  • Where does it come from?
  • Who’s producing our food?
  • What could we do to make change?

To understand the current situation of food, that the food productions- land, seeds, production process, price, and etc.- are under the control. Even though we planted on our land; are we really choose to do so? The variety of the plants/vegetable or the type of chicken, are we the one who choose what we want to eat? Then, food security structure can be categorised by five key components are food policy, food production, food distribution, food culture, and natural resources.

The issues of the food systems:

The seed markets, there are highly concentrated seeds markets. around 80% of the seeds are controlled by 10 companies, for example Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta.

The major companies merged and become “THE BIG 3”, Monsanto-Byer, DuPont-Dow, and ChemChina-Syngenta, and the big 3 control the majority of agrochemicals and seeds in the market.

In Thailand, the CP Company control more than 50% of chicken production by controlling the breeder farm, the maize growers and the feed mill, the egg farm and food processing plant, and factory outlet. Also, the CP company is the major global animal feed producer. The cost of the chicken production, 90% of the cost will return to the company for feed stuff, drugs, equipment, and etc.

In Myanmar, the CP Company is promoting food hybrid variety such as hybrid maize- CP888, CP 888s, CP 9988, CP AAA, and CP KKK. The CP Company is also controlling the food market in Myanmar, by promoting the CP chicken for the new generation.

…you consume this chicken; we wish you success and get what you aim for…

The report undertaken for Oxfam America found that the share of the price goes to different 5 sectors are seed and fertilizer companies, farmers, traders, food manufacturers, and supermarkets. The farmers gain only 13.9% in 2011 and its decreasing 13.1% from 1995.

The food in the market is unsafe.

  • 42.2% of farmers tested found to have chemicals in blood stream at “at risk” and “unsafe” levels
  • 54.74% Of infant meconium samples were found with Paraquat residues (Science Faculty research, Mahidol University).
  • Paraquat residues above MRL in agricultural areas (Science Faculty research study, Chulalongkorn University).
  • 50% of fruits and vegetables unsafe (based on tests of 446 samples by Thai PAN)
  • Thai mortality rates are increasing. The Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs)-cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure- are related to food and chemicals (Public Health Statistics report, Policy and Strategy Office, Ministry of Public Health, 1995-2016).
  • 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption are lost or wasted, and this food system is contributing to Global Warming and Climate Change

The questions and discussions:

  • Which companied are selling chemical and seeds in Myanmar? How can we find the information about GMOs?

All the chemicals are producing in other region, such as paraquat is produced by ChemChina.

The dealer of agribusiness would be CP company and it has a big shared market on hybrid corn seeds. Other companies would be Pioneer and Pacific, but the market sharing is a lot less than CP company.

  • How can we stop this monopolized system? What should be the first step?

We can aim to fight and stop the monopolizing. The CP company is monopolizing everything in our life from head to toes, including telephone company. In order to fight and stop that. We need to be strong and change our mentality. We can start to get away from the system step by step, for example, the campaign on NO 7/11 in Thailand.

We also need to set up the objective, for example, building the local economy. The big system is trying to control but we can stop spending money on company products. This is the way to take back our control and strengthen ourselves.

The first step will be changing our mindset, and then understanding the framework of food production and food consumption that we are living in, so we can identify the issue which we can work out. Food can be the goal or objective such as people can access to good food or people can earn from food production. Also, food can be an instrument/tool to empower people or advocate the policy maker.

  • How many Myanmar farmers depend on foreign seed company?  As Myanmar money is inflation very quick. what are the consequences on food, because food comes from seeds?

The key important issue for changing food production is seed. If we cannot control seeds, we cannot control anything. So, we need to check the source of the seeds that farmers are buying seeds from the company or using their own seeds.

Farmers should be able to produce their own seeds and develop their own seeds. This is the key for change, the seed has a huge market share in the food supply chain.

  • How we can address the food security in the conflicted area?

During the conflict, we aware that people are fled and scattered to difference places. We can work on “Food Bank” to cope with the disaster and war. We also need to find way and support from the neighbouring country/agriculture network to work on food commons. So, people will be able to share food or access to food. There are several activities that people try during the difficult period such as food sharing or seeds donation.

The exchange and discussion on 13 August 2022

Food for Change (20 August 2022)

What we eat or what we decided to eat is politic, so…

“The most political act we do on a daily basis is choosing what to eat”

(Professor Jules Pretty, University of Essex, UK).

The issues on food:

People tended to choose the industrialise food, not local food from small-scale farmers, the local food is more difficult to find in the markets, particularly in the urban area. Therefor the strategies to work with this issue are

  • Making local food available for the household consumption
  • Understanding of the consumers and creating more markets for everyone
  • Changing or advocating the policy

The food sovereignty network in Thailand, it’s been more than 30 years that the NGOs group started to worked with farmers to improve the production from intensive chemical use to sustainable or ecological agriculture. The main focus of sustainable agriculture are seeds production, soil management, and pest controls.

In many years of work and farmer field school workshops, farmers can do the breeding and recover more than 400 varieties of rice. There were more than 10,000 varieties of rice in the past. Later, farmers try to recover and exchange different kind of seeds. During the ritual ceremony, meeting, or festival people will come with seeds for sharing and selling, by doing this the seeds are saved and improved, and the local seeds are spread to the network at community, district, provincial level and across the region.

Another lesson from the work experience was the farmers need strong local markets. In Thailand, there are green markets at the provincial level or district level and the lessons learned from the green markets or farmer markets are.

  • Farmers are the owner of the market, market belong to the farmers
  • Farmers set up the standards and agreement of the market by themselves.
  • The green market becomes a learning space for consumers to learn about food culture, how to cook, nutrition, and etc. Farmers also lean about consumer demands and how to improve the product.
  • The green market becomes the major income for farmers, more than 50% of farmer income per year.

The campaign on “Food for Change”. This campaign started 12 years ago and it helped consumer to understand about food culture, how to eat and how to buy. Customer learned well from buying and spending money. So, the direct experience is important for learning. The campaign also worked on policy advocacy by supporting small farmer, banning the highly hazardous agricultural pesticides, and monitoring and advocating on policies that affect agriculture and the food system

BrandOwned by
7-ElevenCP All PCL
Tesco LotusEk-Chai Distribution System Co. Ltd
Family MartCentral Retail Corp
Fresh MartFresh Mart International PCL
CP Fresh MartCPF Trading Co. Ltd
108 ShopSun 108 Co. Ltd
Big CBig C Supercenter PCL
S&P BakeryS&P Syndicate PCL
TopsCentral Retail Corp
Max ValuAeon (Thailand) Co. Ltd
MakroSian Makro PCL
SuriaSusco PCL
Villa MarketVilla Market JP Co. Ltd
FoodlandFoodland Supermarket Co. Ltd
Home Fresh MartMall Group Co. Ltd
Tesco Lotus ExtraEk-Chai Distribution System Co. Ltd
Central Food HallCentral Retail Corp
Gourmet MarketMall Group Co. Ltd
V-Shop ExpressMinimart Express PCL

The collaboration and support, we can start by gather a small group of farmers who are interested in changing, and a consumer group who tried to avoid eating the unsafe food.

From the small group, we can start seeds saving, producing good food for community, building market opportunity for farmers, finding the markets for the producer.

Questions and Answers:

  • Who should be the main part in educating local farmers to be able to establish sustainable ecological agriculture?

Starting from small group of people and finding local wisdoms who are knowledgeable. Farmers gathered and learned from farmer field school organized by Khao Kwan Foundation.

Also, the best learning for farmers is farmer to farmer, because farmers have experiences for sharing but need support for knowledge management or learning materials.

The knowledge exchange on seeds saving and seeds production is possible, including the other knowledge on soil management and pest controls.

  • Technical support and the NGOs roles

To see the value of what we have. We need to know how to interpret the knowledge we already have, and open for knowledge exchange/transfer from the similar context/ecosystem, search for knowledge on food preservation and connecting the needs of farmers with the academics.

  • What are the challenges or difficulty of the green markets?

At the very beginning of green market, there were very few varieties that not meet the demand of consumers. Later, farmers produced more varieties and learned how to display their produce. These are the learning process for farmer as well as consumer to meet half way. So, farmer needs to know consumer needs and consumer needs to understand the nature of these kind of produce, for example buying and eating seasonal crop/vegetable.

  • Organic products are higher price since its production cost is expensive, how everyone can afford to access organic products with reasonable price?

Promote local food that everyone can access to good food.

Future collaboration:

  • Technical support on dry fruit and food preservation.
  • The sharing and exchange seed production, and seed quality improvement technique.
The exchange and discussion on 20 August 2022

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