From the IPS, reporter Stanislaus Jude Chan attended a press conference where Stiglitz announced what he found.
At a press conference organised here Monday by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Stiglitz expressed optimism over the prospects for change in Burma’s rural economy. "In general, there is the hope that this is the moment of change for the country," Stiglitz said.
The former chief economist of the World Bank was in Burma last week to meet with the state’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Maj Gen Htay Oo and National Development Minister Soe Tha. He was part of a mission organised by ESCAP aimed at assessing and improving Burma’s rural economy.
ESCAP held a wide-ranging dialogue with the South-east Asian state to boost the country’s agricultural sector and to help it reclaim its status as the rice bowl of Asia. It was a "moment of hope," said Stiglitz.
"This is the moment of change for the country," opined the noted economist. "And it would be a mistake to miss this moment."
But some are sceptical about the changes that Stiglitz and ESCAP expect to bring to a country still ruled by a regime notorious for its oppression and secrecy. "The same as the junta’s sucker bait," charged one irate member of the audience, as he marched up to Stiglitz after the conference. The colloquial phrase suggests a scheme to deceive the ignorant.
Based on his talks with farmers during his visit to Burma, Stiglitz identified the high cost of credit in the rural areas, with interest rates of at least 10 percent a month, as one of the issues Burma will have to overcome.
"Irrigation has increased the potential for productivity, but because many could not get credit to buy fertiliser and for hydro-electricity, the full potential could not be reached," he said.
He urged the Burmese government to promote access to appropriate agricultural financing, to boost access to seeds and fertilizers as well as spending on health and education, and create well-paid jobs in rural infrastructure construction in order to stimulate development and raise incomes and spending.
"If you don’t renew your human capital, it depreciates, just as fiscal capital depreciates," Stiglitz said as he urged the country to do more to bridge the demographic gaps in education in the country.