Myanmar Population and Economy

The population of Myanmar – which today exceeds 30 million residents – it has increased on average over the last fifteen years by 2% per year. The rate of increase of the urban population – double that of the general one – is considerable, especially in the two major cities of the country, which are about to become the two industrial centers of the Myanmar Rangoon (which went from 720,000 residents in 1960 to over 2 million in 1970) and Mandalay (from 180,000 to over 400,000).

Myanmar still remains one of the poorest of the underdeveloped countries, with an average annual per capita income (1974) around 80 dollars.

In the economic structure of the country, the primary sector continues to have a preponderant importance, and in the first place agriculture, of which 85% of the population still lives. The arable land has gone from 6.6 million ha in 1960 to 9.5 million in 1975. Agriculture, although it has registered a limited diversification, continues to maintain its characteristic – of colonial origin – of very clear prevalence of rice cultivation (still more than 50% of arable land: 65% in 1960; 4/5 of the physical volume of agricultural production; over half of exports). Despite numerous state interventions, it also largely retains the characteristics of technical and social backwardness. Cultural diversification, which has seen a fair number of farms specialize in non-food products (cotton, sugar cane, jute, tobacco) intended to facilitate the development of the corresponding industry, partly took place at the expense of rice. Rice production went from 65 million q in 1960 to 85 million in 1975: the increase in production (1.5% the annual increase) was less than the demographic increase, thus causing a continuous reduction in exports of rice. The production of the other fundamental agricultural products already obtained previously increased to a greater extent, in particular the industrial crops indicated. Yields are still scarce: rice is around 17 q per hectare, compared to 15 pre-war; there are around 7,000 tractors available, including 6,000 in state-created tractor and machine stations; irrigated lands still represent only 12% of the total cultivated (in 1960 about 8.5%; only in 1963 the percentage of pre-war irrigation was reached). Although peasants now pay rent to the state and no longer to landowners, the overwhelming majority (85%) of farms are rented holdings of less than 4 ha. There are fewer than 15,000 cooperatives in the countryside. All these delays in agriculture are confirmed by the fact that the primary sector, despite occupying two thirds of the active population, gives only less than half of the gross national product.

The secondary sector, although developing, continues to have a limited weight, occupying only 10% of the active population, and giving about 30% of the gross national product. Private companies continue to prevail by far in number, moreover in the great majority of limited and very limited dimensions (often artisan companies); they operate mainly in the food, textile and forestry sectors, transforming the local raw material. Today, however, there are some large modern enterprises, governmental or mixed, almost all created by state intervention in the last fifteen years mainly in Rangoon and Mandalay (hydroelectric plants, cotton mills, sawmills, factories for the assembly of tractors and vehicles, sugar factory). Some few operate in the basic industry sector (rolling mill, chemical fertilizer factory, caustic soda factory, cement factory, electrical and radio product factories). As far as mining is concerned, only the extraction of oil is on the increase, practically no longer exported. It should not be forgotten that the country’s major mineral deposits are located in the peripheral regions, where the guerrillas are raging; and that even today – according to official data – over a third of the country’s territory is not well known in its natural potential. In the main branches of the secondary sector, the state sector is clearly prevalent: energy 100%, mining 80%, construction 65%, manufacturing industries 60%, large industry 40%.

A similar prevalence is also found in the main branches of the tertiary sector: international trade 100%, services 64%, internal trade around 50%. As far as transport is concerned, there has been an increase in railway lines (all of which are narrow gauge, like those already in existence), which went from 3000 km in 1960 to over 4000 km in 1970; even the roads with artificial ground have increased from 6000 to about 8000 km. But the vehicle fleet is still very limited, in which heavy vehicles prevail (33,000 against 31,000 cars for 30 million people). Foreign trade still retains many features of the colonial period, even if the ancient colonial power, Great Britain, is now flanked by Japan (now in first place), Rep. Fed. Of Germany and USA (the percentage of trade with socialist countries is around 10%). In exports, agricultural products continue to predominate (about three quarters of the total). Rice is by far the most prevalent (over half of exports) even if the exported share of national production decreased – following the increase in population and therefore in domestic consumption – from about 30% in 1960 to less than 10% in the last years; then timber (especially teak), the percentage of which has doubled in the fifteen years. Imports still mainly include finished industrial products, production equipment and foodstuffs (primarily vegetable oils); but as a result of the state measures, equipment from half of the imports increased to two thirds, while the percentage of finished products almost halved.

In the relations of Myanmar with foreign countries, the border treaty concluded with the People’s Republic of China in 1960 should be mentioned, which recognized (with minimal corrections) the traditional border existing between the two countries.

Myanmar Population and Economy