Burma's staple food, the most important part of the meal for most people. Burmese people are among the world's largest rice consumers: Aper capita average of 186 kilograms of cleaned rice is eaten annually, which provides around 75 percent of their caloric intake. Rice is also a major element in the development of the country's history and cultures. Paddy rice cultivation became synonymous with civilization in lowland or plateau areas inhabited by Mons, Burmans (Bamars), Arakanese (Rakhines), and Shans (Tai) because it made possible a high standard of living (compared to hill-dwelling peoples, who engaged in shifting agriculture) in which Indo-Buddhist civilization, including the building of pagodas and royal support for the Sangha, flourished. Irrigated rice fields, principally at Kyaukse and Minbu, were the economic foundation of the Pagan Dynasty, providing it with surpluses of food that supported a powerful and militarily expansive state from the 11th to 13th centuries. After Lower Burma was annexed following the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, the British encouraged the migration of farmers from Upper Burma, who cleared land in the delta of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River and grew rice for export. This experiment in "industrial agriculture," assisted by British investment in transportation and rice mills and the opening of the Suez Canal, was so successful that, before World War II, Burma was the world's largest supplier of the grain to world markets (over three million tons annually). After Burma became independent in 1948, it lost this distinction, largely because of insurgency and the ill-conceived agricultural policies of the Burma Socialist Programme Party regime (1962-1988). During the socialist era, an inefficient and corrupt distribution system, coupled with periodic droughts and floods, caused serious rice shortages and periodic urban unrest. During the late 1970s, success in increasing rice harvests was achieved through the promotion of high-yield varieties under the Whole Township Extension Program. To ensure a dependable supply of rice to politically restive urban areas, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has expanded irrigation facilities, promoted double cropping, and opened up new land for rice cultivation. But because there has been limited investment in fertilizers, pesticides, farm mechanization, and storage facilities, and most rice lands, being rain-fed, are hostage to the seasonal monsoon, ensuring adequate rice supplies for a growing population continues to be a major preoccupation of the military government. In April 2003, the SPDC announced a radical liberalization measure for the rice trade, which would allow farmers to sell rice to private citizens at market prices, although it is unclear whether the policy is being consistently implemented because coercive state procurement seems to continue in various localities, such as Arakan (Rakhine) State. In the mid-1990s, about 72 percent of Burma's cropland was devoted to rice, or 6.5 million hectares. As mentioned, most rice lands are rain-fed, lying in the lowland, alluvial region of the Irrawaddy Delta or in coastal areas of Arakan, while irrigated rice fields, about 18 percent of the total, are found principally in Mandalay, Sagaing, and Pegu (Bago) Divisions.
   As in other parts of Southeast and East Asia, paddy rice cultivation in Burma requires the sowing of seed grain in nursery beds; after the seeds have sprouted and started to grow, they are transplanted to amply watered and plowed paddy fields, a task requiring intensive labor. After about four months, the crop is ready for harvesting, which requires more intensive labor. Because there is very little farm mechanization in Burma, both transplanting and harvesting involve backbreaking work, and farmers cannot harvest their crops without hiring extra laborers.
   See also Economy and Economic Policy, State Law and Order Restoration Council/ State Peace and Development Era.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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