Velcourt CEO visits Burma as ambassador for agriculture


James Townshend, Velcourt’s CEO and the UK’s business ambassador for agriculture, spoke to reporters in Rangoon last week.
(Photo: British Embassy Rangoon / Facebook)


He told reporters during a press conference at the British Embassy on Thursday that while agriculture was already making a large contribution to Burma’s economy, there was “huge potential” for expansion.
“With technology and investment and the infrastructure that’s needed to support the industry; with investment in the training and development of the people engaged in the industry; and with investment in linking up the industry with the market, there really is enormous scope for the sector,” he said, before warning that there would be obstacles along the way.


“Of course there are all sorts of problems that have to be dealt with, but the underlying fundamentals, I would suggest, are extremely positive.”
With most of the West’s economic sanctions dropped or suspended, Burma is hoping to boost overseas investment in its underproductive agricultural sector.
One difficulty the country will face as it tries to boost that figure is likely to be land tenure. During decades of military rule hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland were forcibly seized by the government and the armed forces, often to be handed to companies with close ties to the junta.


James said uncertainty over land ownership, and the potential for land grabs, would be of particular concern in “land-intensive” agricultural projects.
“Myanmar isn’t alone in terms of the issues that arise, but it’s one that clearly needs to be thought through,” he said. “In my judgment, until such time as it is thought through, and there is real visibility on who owns, or has title to, or has legal right to occupy [land], there’s going to be an impediment in the way of the industry.”
“If they’ve got no security, [the current occupiers of land] can’t sensibly make the investment needed to deliver a competitive agricultural sector,” he said. “I would have thought it would be unwise to contemplate disenfranchising the people who occupy the land at the present time. That would be a fairly dangerous route to go down.”

As part of the trip James and the other members UKTI envoy visited a  number of farming and development projects as well as discussing their views with Aung San Suu Kyi ,the UK ambassador and Embassy officials.