With increased integration into the global food value chain, supply and demand are transcending borders, thereby, creating opportunities for emerging economies. New opportunities ranging from wider market access to favorable pricing strategies are inevitably challenged by the lack of knowledge and weak compliance to food safety standards and regulations. As such, education on international food quality and safety standards has become a key thrust area for developing countries to ensure market access and trade competitiveness.
Against this backdrop, Myanmar is among the countries that have recently acknowledged the pressing importance of food safety education. Although there had been growing demand for developing human resource capacities in both public and private sectors, it was not until 2016 that more proactive and directed efforts were added when the University of Yangon and Yangon Technological University introduced a course syllabus on basic food safety in their Food Diploma Program and Master Program. Curricula transformation was coupled with capacity development through a series of safe food training courses.
Through Mekong Institute (MI) and New Zealand Aid Programme’s (NZAP) Food Safety Project, several senior and mid-level Myanmar officials and academics were equipped with comprehensive knowledge on essential food safety. With the ability to act upon knowledge, three alumnae capitalized on their learning experience to enhance food safety education in the country. As professors in major universities in Myanmar, Dr. Yi Yi Myint, Dr. Htar Htar Naing, and Dr. Swe Swe Win conducted trainings and revised the course syllabi of their respective universities to further strengthen emphasis on food safety principles and practices.
Dr. Yi Yi Myint, a member of Food Science and Technology Association (FoSTA), participated in the training program on Agri-Food Inspection and Audit in June 2017. Acquired knowledge on food safety standards and management systems has enabled her to revise the basic food safety course syllabus of the Industrial Chemistry Department of the University of Yangon, where she has been occasionally providing support. “Previously, the university’s syllabus on food safety provided an introduction to Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP),” Dr. Myint recounts. “But since food safety is a process comprising of several actors and phases, I felt the need to strengthen the course through a broader scope – by including Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP), as well as food inspection and audit processes.” According to Dr. Myint, students are quite unfamiliar with these topics because earlier studies have only focused on food processing technology; but recently, there had been an increasing demand for emphasis on food production quantity in parallel with safety and quality. Set for the semester of June 2019, the new syllabus is specifically designed for the Post Graduate Diploma Program of Food Science and Technology; similarly, it is expected to have a spillover effect on enhancing capacities of academic staff that have backgrounds in food technology, food science, and food chemistry.
While awaiting its official implementation, Dr. Myint has continuously conducted several trainings and discussions to increase the awareness of FoSTA members, local stakeholders of medium-sized food processing and production enterprises, as well as staff and students of the University of Dagon, University of Yangon, and University of Mandalay – all of which have integrated agri-food inspection and audit into their respective curricula.
Myanmar is primarily an agriculture dependent country, providing livelihood to more than 70% of its population. Taking this into account, Dr. Htar Htar Naing tapped on her knowledge gained from attending the training on Assuring Food Safety through Pest and Agrichemical Management held in July 2018. As associate professor at the Department of Entomology of Yezin Agricultural University (YAU), Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation (MOALI), she incorporated Agro-Eco System Analysis (AESA) and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) into the university’s existing Entomology curriculum. She has also conducted a Training of Trainers (TOT) on IPM participated by YAU’s Department of Entomology.
Dr. Naing underscores the importance of AESA in Myanmar’s context. “Food safety begins on the farm. Thus, AESA plays a vital role in understanding the whole system of interactions, which can be used by farmers and other stakeholders in reducing the negative impacts of pests and diseases,” she explains.
Dr. Swe Swe Win, also a FoSTA member and a visiting associate professor at the Yangon Technological University, has initiated a similar ripple effect. Through the training program on Mainstreaming Food Safety Risk Analysis, Dr. Win has included food safety topics to further develop the university’s existing curriculum for the Diploma in Food Nutrition and Hygiene Foods and Master’s in Food Processing. “In 2017, three out of 14 candidates were from the Department of Food and Drug Administration. Risk profiles were developed as their term papers, which served as practical training in identifying, assessing, managing, and communicating food safety risk analysis,” Dr. Win explains.
Likewise, Dr. Win has also conducted GHP, GMP, and Risk Analysis Training to 50 staff of Red Horse Dairy Industries, Myanmar’s renowned producer of milk powder and dairy products. “To educate and to be educated,” she highlights. “MI’s participatory training-approach has enabled me to equally impart what I have learned to be able to generate wider impact.”
By integrating food safety into Myanmar universities’ curricula, it aims to build capacities for transforming interrelated issues in the country. After all, food safety overarches public health, social well-being, trade, tourism, economy, and development.