The University of New England (UNE) has just signed a four year, two million-dollar contract to undertake an agricultural ‘research for development’ project in Myanmar (formerly Burma), targeted at improving the livelihoods of poor farmers.
The project, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, is led by Dr Julian Prior. Dr Prior comments “The objectives of the project are threefold. Firstly to analyse the livelihood and survival strategies used by the poor in order to develop targeted agriculture technologies that meet their needs. Secondly to identify the most appropriate agricultural extension strategies and lastly to expand and increase the effectiveness of Myanmar’s agricultural research.”
UNE will be collaborating with Myanmar’s only agricultural university, Yezin Agricultural University (YAU). YAU’s lecturers and postgraduate students will help with research field work and at the same time UNE will be responsible for building their research capacity. Dr Prior states another outcome of the collaboration “will be the development of an agricultural extension curriculum at the University.”
Although YAU is embarking on an aggressive expansionary phase, Myanmar is just emerging from 50 years of a secretive and oppressive military regime, hence lasting progress will take time and hard work. According to Dr Prior, Professor Tin Htut, YAU Rector, “is a man of strong leadership with a great vision for his university, so he will meet the challenges head on. Despite limited educational resources he produces 400 graduates each year but currently they struggle to find jobs. UNE aims to help address this issue by supporting the government in tackling institutional constraints..’
Dr Prior comments “With the opening up of Myanmar things are changing rapidly and in the last 18 months cities have seen a major growth in vehicle traffic, building construction and the influx of international businessmen.” A symbol of the country opening up to the West was the visit of President Obama in August 2012 and in the weeks that followed, Professor Tin Htut received overtures from five American universities. It is hoped in this changing environment that the benefits of the collaboration between UNE and YAU will flourish as the level of trust and engagement with Myanmar organisations builds.
Dr Prior’s project is one of two research projects UNE is undertaking with Myanmar, the other, led by Professor David Herridge focuses on grain legume breeding.