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Transformation of rural landscapes for sustainable and nutritious food systems in Myanmar

IWRA 2021 Online Conference One Water, One Health
Theme 1: How can we better manage water for food and public health in a changing world?
Author(s): Matthew McCartney, Jessica Scott, Shashwat Dhungana and Nishadi Eriyagama

Matthew McCartney1, Jessica Scott2, Shashwat Dhungana3 and Nishadi Eriyagama1

1. International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka
2. University of Wollongong, Australia
3. International Water Management Institute, Nepal


Keyword(s): diets, water footprints, greenhouse gas emissions


The EAT-Lancet Commission reported that food forms an inextricable link between human health and environmental sustainability and globally is the single “strongest lever” to optimize both. What is true for the planet is also true for Myanmar where current food systems, dominated by rice, fail to deliver healthy diets for a significant proportion of the population and are also a major contributor to environmental degradation. The research reported here was conceived as a way to contextualize the EAT-Lancet findings for Myanmar and to understand how transforming agricultural production could contribute to food systems that are both healthier for people and
more environmentally more sustainable. To allow for geographic variation, analyses were conducted for all Myanmar’s states. Cropped areas and production data were obtained from the Central Statistical Organization. In the absence of quantifiable national dietary surveys, household expenditure surveys were used as a proxy for food consumption. Comparison of mean consumption with Food Based Dietary Guidelines and the EAT diet for planetary health were made to quantify diet “gaps”. Blue and green water components of water footprints for crops were quantified using FAO-CROPWAT software. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were computed for  crops, livestock and aquaculture using default emission factors specified in IPCC guidance documents.

Analyses confirm that regional differences occur but in respect to consumption of diverse nutritious food groups current dietary patterns are inadequate in all states. For a healthy diet, the intake of some food groups should be reduced (i.e. rice) and other groups increased (i.e. vegetables, fruit and animal source foods, for vulnerable groups). Water footprints of rice, tropical fruit, vegetables and aquaculture average 4,390, 424, 436, and 2,539 m3ton-1 respectively at national level. Median estimates of GHG emissions from rice (11,518 GgCO2ey-1), livestock (27,389 GgCO2ey-1) and aquaculture (482 GgCO2ey-1) confirm that agriculture is the biggest source of GHG emissions in Myanmar. Switching production from rice to crops and fish, currently in deficit in healthy diets would, as has been observed elsewhere (e.g. India and Europe), result in a reduction in absolute water requirements and GHG emissions. Changes in agriculture production as a contribution to transforming the food system are justified and necessary to fill the diet gaps identified across Myanmar. This research indicates that
utilizing water to produce the food needed for more nutritious diets would simultaneously reduce pressure on water resources and contribute to climate change mitigation, thereby supporting more sustainable and resilient food systems.

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