The University has been awarded more than $1.7 million from USAID to help develop aquaculture in Myanmar.
A University of Arizona-led partnership was awarded a grant of more than $1.7 million from the United States Agency for International Development to help develop an aquaculture industry that will be central to Myanmar's strategy to rejoin the global economy.
The USAID funding has resulted in the implementation of the three-year project, "Developing a Sustainable Seafood Industry Infrastructure in Myanmar (Burma)," a partnership between the UA and Yangon and Pathein Universities in Myanmar, and the Myanmar Fisheries Federation.
The project is helping build the human and physical capacity of the country's seafood industry to make it profitable and internationally competitive. Goals include better facilities, improved seafood quality, international investment, a more highly trained workforce and improved social conditions.
"This project and its impact on the human condition is extremely impressive in itself, but it is fundamentally about something much bigger," said Shane Burgess, dean of the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
"Myanmar is emerging from 60 years of military rule to a quasi-civilian government. U.S. foreign policy is calibrated in support of further and continual reform," Burgess said.
"There is a long road to go. The U.S. has restored full diplomatic relations, re-established a USAID mission in the country and is supporting Myanmar's return as an international partner in global commerce. This project is central to the success of U.S. regional geopolitical strategy. Not bad impact for a university in the Sonoran Desert."
The Myanmar Fisheries Federation, or MFF, represents most of the private sector fishing, aquaculture and seafood processing enterprises in the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, which is one of the top 10 seafood producers and consumers in the world with extensive marine fisheries and aquaculture industries. The country's people consume, per capita, four times the amount of seafood as Americans.
Myanmar "will be joining the Southeast Asia Free Trade Zone in 2016 and its seafood industry must quickly catch up to its Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian partners who have heavily invested in all aspects of the seafood industry in recent years," said principal investigator Kevin Fitzsimmons, director of international programs for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a professor of soil, water and environmental science. "Improving human and physical capacity will be critical to the eventual success of the program."
International partners include DuPont, Ripple Fish, Tiran Group, Handy Seafood, Auburn University, the Asian Institute of Technology, Aquaculture Without Frontiers and Relief International. The Office of Global Initiatives at the UA facilitated the development of the proposal and is now administering the financial aspects of the project.
A major objective to develop a seafood safety laboratory is now in progress at Yangon University. Jean McLain, associate director from the Water Resources Research Center and associate scientist in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science in CALS, is taking the lead on this aspect of the program and traveled to Myanmar during the summer to help set up the lab and start the training.
The facility will operate as a service lab for the seafood industry and as a training lab for university students. The project also will work directly with fishers and farmers to improve the quality of their product — mainly tilapia, barramundi (sea bass), shrimp, eel, carp and crabs — from the boat or pond through the value chain to consumers.
"We are working in Myanmar and with importers in other countries to meet their standards and get them samples so that they will purchase more as we get product up to their (evolving) standards," Fitzsimmons said.
Other major objectives include work on crab, shrimp and fish hatcheries and nurseries, on-farm sanitation, nutrition and aquaculture feed technology, mangrove restoration, an aquaculture-seafood business dictionary, and scholarships and internships.
Linda Chu, assistant director of global programs, and Julianne Hammink, assistant director of content development, both from the UA Center for English as a Second Language, have assisted with the bilingual seafood dictionary.
Josephine Korchmaros, associate research professor from the UA Southwest Institute for Research on Women, recently visited Myanmar to help guide efforts to increase female participation in all aspects of the seafood value chain and provide expertise on project management and statistical analyses.
One early objective of the project already has been achieved, according to Fitzsimmons.
Tiran Group in Israel, along with the UA, Aquaculture Without Frontiers and MFF, collaborated to transfer an aquaculture library donated by renowned Israeli scientist Gideon Hulata to Myanmar at MFF headquarters. A new library was dedicated on June 1 by the Israeli ambassador to Myanmar, the head of the USAID mission, Yangon University's rector and many industry representatives.
Scholarships for Myanmar students to study aquaculture and fisheries will be awarded for the Asian Institute of Technology and Yangon and Pathein Universities in coming semesters. Student internships will be supported by the project, paying for half the stipend while the private sector partners pay the other half. The first five interns already are working at a farm and a processing plant.
"These internships will provide critical 'first professional positions' for many students," Fitzsimmons said.
"The project will build capacity and professionalism in the universities, the seafood processing and marketing sector, and in the aquaculture and fisheries sectors by partnering with the civil society and private sector to train people and empower entrepreneurial energies."
The recent rescue of Myanmar fishermen enslaved on Thai fishing boats has led to an additional aspect of the project, according to Fitzsimmons. The project is working with MFF to organize additional training workshops and inviting the returned fishermen to participate, so that they can get training in aquaculture rather than being forced back to the sea. Private-sector farms, processing plants and feed mills have offered to hire any men who complete the training that will be provided by the project.
"We expect that these men who have suffered so much will prefer to have a safe job near their families in a sustainable business that will offer stable salaries and opportunities for advancement," Fitzsimmons said.