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Myanmar is one of the poorer countries in Asia, with more than a quarter of the population living below the poverty line. (2017) Nevertheless, Myanmar has plenty of potential: the soil is rich in minerals and the fertile delta of the Ayeyarwady River is ideally suited for rice cultivation. The capital Yangon is the economic and industrial heart of Myanmar, with food industry, textile industry, shipbuilding and oil refineries in particular. Yangon also has a seaport and an international airport.

Myanmar came out of the Second World War badly damaged and had a very one-sided economy that was almost entirely based on rice farming. But above all, the rigidly pursued central economic policy of 1962-1988 proved disastrous. The state decided everything in the economic sphere through central planning, nationalisation of companies and isolation of Myanmar from the rest of the world. The result was that rice production declined to such an extent that there was hardly enough for the country's own population, let alone for export. The economy almost came to a standstill and many people became unemployed.

After the coup in 1988, many bad measures were reversed and it became interesting again for foreigners to invest in Myanmar. Major investors were Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, and initially also Western countries such as Great Britain, the United States, France and the Netherlands. However, these countries are increasingly pulling back due to the uncertain political situation in the country.

Myanmar also has a very large black market, and drugs, gems and teak are exported on a large scale. Many consumer goods that enter the country via transit are not included in the import figures.

Agriculture and Fisheries

Myanmar is still an agricultural country and agriculture and fisheries contribute a relatively large part of the country's national income (approx. 24% in 2017). These sectors also provide the most employment (about 70%).

Rice is the main crop and the fertile delta of the Ayeyarwady River is the most suitable place for rice cultivation. Irrigation has also created fields in the central lowlands. In recent years, rice has again been exported abroad. Other food and trade crops are legumes, sugar, maize, tobacco, cotton and jute.

Fish is an important foodstuff for the people of Myanmar. About 800,000 tonnes of fish are caught every year, the majority of which is sea fish. Myanmar earns a lot of money by granting concessions to foreign companies to fish in its territorial waters.

Along with Thailand and Laos, Myanmar is one of the world's largest producers of raw opium, the base material for heroin, and the area as a whole is not called the 'Golden Triangle' for nothing. The main production area for poppies is in the north-east of Myanmar, on the Shan Plateau.

Industry and mining

Industry and mining are not yet of great importance for national income and employment, despite the great economic value of all the mineral resources. Most small companies are owned by the Chinese and many large companies are state-owned, as are sectors such as railways, oil and especially gas extraction. The very large natural gas field off the coast of Arakan State has been exploited by Korea's Daewoo Exploration since 2009.

Other important minerals are nickel, copper, gold, zinc and silver. The mining of precious stones and minerals is also an important industry, especially rubies, sapphires, peridot, spinel and especially the mineral jade.

In Myanmar, the orange-red to brown-coloured painite was first discovered around 1960. Until now, only a few dozen of this gemstone have been found, most of them in Myanmar.


These sectors employ a quarter of the workforce and together they account for 40% of national income. Myanmar exports oil, vegetables, teak, rice, gems, fish and rubber, among other things. The country mainly imports machinery, transport equipment, construction materials and food products.

Important trading partners are China, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, India and Taiwan in Asia and England and Germany from Europe.


Hulst, H. / Birma: (Myanmar)
KIT Publishers/Oxfam Novib

K├Âllner, H. / Myanmar (Birma)
Het Spectrum

Myat Yin, S. / Burma
Times Books

Peterse, L. / Birma (Myanmar)

Reid, R. / Myanmar (Burma)
Lonely Planet


CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated June 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info