BUCKWHEAT, which can be used to produce noodles and other foodstuffs, could prove a useful cash crop for farmers in northern Shan State, where the soil is poor and where farmers have previously farmed opium poppy.
Mandalay Shwe Yi Company has already begun to develop the crop and has been selling buckwheat noodles produced from the company’s factory in Hlaing Tharyar, Yangon, since January, said U Zin Aung, the company’s managing director.
“We will sell our buckwheat noodles domestically and might later export to Japan if there is demand for them,” he said.
Buckwheat production has had a slow start because of heavy rains and the resulting lack of raw wheat, he said.
The crop is cultivated in the Kokang region that was once famous for the opium poppies grown there by farmers.
With aid from Japan, the government encouraged farmers to switch from poppies to buckwheat.
“The company provides the farmers with seeds, and they provide the labour. Then we buy back the crop,” said U Zin Aung.
Myanmar companies, including Mandalay Shwe Yi, have also introduced liquor and biscuits made from buckwheat into the domestic market.
More than 100 tonnes of raw buckwheat was exported to Japan in 2009, but the figure fell to only 36 tonnes in 2010.
“Cost increases and heavy rains resulted in lower production last year. I’d expected to grow about 5000 acres in 2010, but I could only work 1000 acres, compared with the 3000 acres we worked in 2009,” he said.
Buckwheat can be harvested twice a year, in April and September, and has a two-month growing period; each acre can produce up to 100 kilograms, he added.
“Because of the declining exchange rate with the US dollar and the cost of transportation, I sold what buckwheat we harvested in the local market instead of exporting it to Japan,” he said, adding that the development of the crop, including adding value for export, could help create jobs in the area.
However, he warned that producers here would have to lower their prices to compete with the Chinese competition, which sells buckwheat to Japan at US$400 a tonne, while the export price here is $450.
Mandalay Shwe Yi Company is selling each 200-gram packet of buckwheat noodles for K630.
Daw Win, who lives in Hlaing township, said Myanmar buckwheat noodles are very tasty but are expensive.
“A packet costs K630 compared to between K300 and K400 for those made in China. As consumers we have to consider that.”