Myanmar veteran spells out opportunities, challenges

Published on
April 22, 2013

Myanmar is the last frontier for wild seafood, said an early veteran of the country’s seafood industry. The Southeast Asian nation could become a hot bed for natural shrimp on international markets, according to New York-based aquaculture consultant Jayendran Muthushankar.

He spent eight years in the Southeast Asian nation, first moving there in 1996. At the time, Muthushankar supervised shrimp production for mostly Japanese clients. He recalled how Burma had huge advantages in the late 1990s: “what was costing USD 12 was being sourced in Burma for USD 3.”

Freshwater shrimp farming and softshell farming both have potential in Myanmar (also knows as Burma), said Muthushankar, who reckoned the lifting of sanctions (including banking sanctions) by the United States and EU has created “huge” potential for future developments.

“Also the new foreign investment law also needs to be studied for potential new investors… these are new developments that has lot of potential for a boost in things developing in a good way.

While he believes the country now has unique opportunities as a source of wild shrimp, squid and fish, there are also challenges, among them a dearth of good hatcheries, especially for shrimp.

“The problem for hatcheries is that Myanmar monsoons dump lot of freshwater so the salinity is too low for the hatcheries. Hatcheries were developed in Thandwe and Sittwe Areas with most of the fry coming from Thailand but they’ve not been so successful. As for freshwater fish they do a lot of volume but of late due to high feed cost things are getting difficult for the farmers.”

”What Myanmar needs is investment in value-added processing technology for finished goods as well as farming technology and local feed manufacturing capacity for both shrimp and fish feed.”

Likewise, Muthushankar sees a need for expansion of ice -factory facilities in the raw material regions to preserve the catch and maintain quality during transportation. He adds: “Hopefully the country’s road links infrastructure will improve in near future to shorten time of raw material transport because currently most of raw material comes by sea or river transportation that needs upgrading too.”

Likewise, Burma’s power shortages means electricity costs for aquaculture will be hefty, while feed has to be imported and there are delays due to import regulations. The slow progress of Thai conglomerate CP is proof of the difficulties of entering Burma, said Muthushankar. “They couldn’t operate, because you can’t import input on time, then because of the power shortages you need generators but much of the fuel distribution market is run on the black market."

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