Productivity and the promise of integrated rice-fish systems: How gender will shape success or failure in an era of rural transformation in Myanmar

On the heels of its historic political-economic opening in 2015, agricultural production in Myanmar is on the brink of substantive transformation. Poverty in Myanmar’s rural areas is substantially higher than urban areas: 38.8 % and 14.5 % respectively. Out-migration from rural areas due to unprofitable farming systems highlights the need for “a more productive agricultural sector and improved food systems” (FAO). Shifting from monoculture rice to integrated rice-fish systems has the potential to contribute to increased rural incomes, livelihood diversification and provide a source of nutritious fish. Through a literature review and preliminary qualitative gender analysis in three demonstration farm villages we examined the perceived impact pathways by which productivity and rural development are intended to be achieved. We found that although gender is notably absent from the rice-fish discourse the emerging findings suggest that gender equality and women’s empowerment is likely a critical determinant in the promise of productivity to the anticipated livelihood and wellbeing outcomes. We observed gendered differences in the division of labour and normative barriers such as those that position fisheries and rice production as men’s domains. For livelihoods and income, women are largely recognised as sellers and processors in the fish value chain and tend to control income from fish. The literature suggests that women’s control over income is significant for family wellbeing and nutrition. Though the pattern of resource control from a rice fish system is yet to be observed. Mixed methods research exploring these gender dimensions, implications and ways forward in rice-fish systems is currently ongoing.