Myanmar’s food sector being transformed by investment in production and sustainability measures

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Tha Bar Wa, a four-year project, is being implemented by WWF in partnership with the Myanmar Food Processors and Exporters Association (MFPEA) and Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC). ©MoI
Tha Bar Wa, a four-year project, is being implemented by WWF in partnership with the Myanmar Food Processors and Exporters Association (MFPEA) and Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC). ©MoI

Related tags Myanmar Waste management Asean Eu Wwf Energy conservation Pollution Sustainability South east asia

A cleaner production and higher sustainability project for Myanmar’s food and beverage industry is bringing much needed transformation.

Tha Bar Wa, a four-year project, is being implemented by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), in partnership with the Myanmar Food Processors and Exporters Association (MFPEA) and Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC).

The initiative is funded by the European Union (EU) under the SWITCH-Asia Programme, which supports initiatives for sustainable consumption and production across Asia-Pacific, especially for SMEs.

“We are launching Tha Bar Wa in Myanmar to help local business and consumers switch to greener and more sustainable methods. In fact, as Myanmar's economy grows, I am convinced this programme can show that development and progress does not have to be at the expense of the environment or Myanmar's unique natural heritage,”​ said H.E. Kristian Schmidt, the EU’s ambassador to Myanmar.

Food and beverage is the largest industry in Myanmar, accounting for about 60% of businesses.

Silvia Sartori, Tha Bar Wa Project Manager, WWF Myanmar, shared with FoodNavigator-Asia​ that the two main areas of focus are the management of wastewater discharge and greater energy efficiency.

Challenges in current system

In Myanmar, there are estimated to be over 27,000 food and beverage companies, though only about 24,000 are registered. Of these, less than 5% have a functioning wastewater treatment system.

The 2018 Ayeyarwady State of the Basin Assessment found industrial wastewater pollution to be a significant threat to the freshwater ecosystem in Myanmar.

According to Sartori, the pollution and contamination of surrounding areas has been so bad that nearby residents often complain to the government or the media.

Said U Sein Thaung Oo, vice-chairman of MFPEA: “Many local SMEs lack the knowledge and do not have the right technologies to implement green processes in their workflow. By learning and adopting new ways of operation (through Tha Bar Wa), they can contribute to minimising the environmental impact of industries.”

Furthermore, there is a widely-publicised “energy poverty”​ in the country with, according to WWF, an average of three power outages per week.

The regulatory environment as well, including enforcement, can play a bigger role in improving the situation.

Sartori said, earlier in the year, 1,065 companies across nine industrial sectors were asked to submit an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) by the end of the year. The companies were selected based on their production level and environmental impact.

However, to date, there is no official EMP template as yet. Hence, notified companies are unclear about how to submit their EMP.

Therefore, through Tha Bar Wa, WWF also hopes to “refresh”​ the dialogue on regulation and to help to identify more clearly the issues and the ways to resolve them.

Yet another issue, said Sartori, is that businesses have limited access to financial support for the initiatives that they would like to undertake.

“SMEs struggle to be granted loans as financial institutions usually base eligibility on collateral,” ​said Sartori.

As such, she said Tha Bar Wa is also providing capacity building to local banks to raise their awareness about 'green finance' as well as improve SMEs' access to finance.

Main areas of help

Tha Bar Wa’s cleaner production initiative provides Myanmar companies with technical knowledge and training in the skills necessary to run a sustainable and environmentally-friendly business.

In terms of energy efficiency, the project is helping business to optimise their energy management. By learning about and adopting improved efficient processes and technologies, businesses can use energy more efficiently and reduce their energy costs, with significant financial savings or returns.

As mentioned, Tha Bar Wa will also improve access to finance and promote policies that encourage the adoption of sustainable water and energy management practices.

Some of the other parties they will work closely with include the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MoNREC), Ministry of Industry (MoI), Ministry of Education (MoE), and the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), to strengthen public-private partnership on these initiatives.

“Private industry, government and banks need to act together,”​ said Sartori.

She said the project will initially cover Greater Yangon and Mandalay but will expand to include a third or even a fourth city.

“We will replicate the model once it is successful. We are also looking to collaborate with other cleaner production initiatives that are ongoing in the country,” ​said Sartori.

“We are looking for synergies with other parties to join forces with, and to scale up these initiatives in Myanmar.”

Results already seen?

According to Tha Bar Wa's project obectives, by 2020 it hopes to see 200 SMEs in the country’s industry and associated business intermediaries having gained knowledge and capacity to implement cleaner production technology, and 30 SMEs having implemented cleaner production measures and processes — and by then having already shown 20% improvement in water and energy consumption as well as discharge performance.

Additionally, a pool of 10 local consultants would have been trained and would have provided services to SMEs for the implementation of cleaner technologies, three financial institutions would have enhanced their capacity leading to green technology investments, and 60 bank officers would have been trained and equipped with theory and practical skills on SME lending.

Gaurav Gupta, sustainable business programme manager of WWF Myanmar, said: “Industrial pollution and unsustainable use of resources impede the long-term economic growth of a country. Myanmar has the opportunity to learn from and avoid the mistakes of other countries by ensuring its industries develop sustainably with cleaner production.

“The Tha Bar Wa project will support industries to achieve this green growth vision.”

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