The lack of agricultural knowledge, access to credit, and the ever-increasing cost of living keep rural families in southern Shan State, Myanmar, trapped in poverty. With the rise of violent conflicts and the effects of climate change, many people are forced to migrate. SWISSAID has initiated a project to enhance the value of crops through agroecology, enabling farmers to envision a dignified future.
The project aims to assist villagers in building improved and resilient communities and livelihoods by helping farmers organize into community groups to collectively address their priority subsistence issues. Specifically, rural populations are encouraged to enhance the viability of their farming practices through agroecology and improved access to affordable credit. The project also strengthens the empowerment and leadership of women.
The project is partially financially supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Zau Sai (pseudonym) is a farmer in southern Shan State, Myanmar. He lives in the village of Kaung Wai with his wife and two children. The family cultivates tea, chili peppers, sesame, and garlic for their own consumption as well as for selling in nearby markets. In this region, which is among the poorest in the country, living conditions are challenging. “Over the past ten years, the prices of chemical fertilizers have significantly increased, and the harvests have become increasingly poor,” reports the 32-year-old farmer. “It has become difficult to feed my family without having to borrow and accumulate debt.”
A supported farmer from a group is drying his peanuts to later press them and make oil. The remaining parts will be given to the animals.
Stay and take action
Despite the difficulties, Zau Sai has chosen to stay on his land and continue farming, unlike most of his peers. The lack of prospects and violent conflicts drive many young people to migrate to China and Thailand. Rural areas are particularly affected by this emigration. The lack of agricultural knowledge, the high cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and the limited access to credit keep families trapped in poverty. Additionally, the effects of climate change on crops threaten farmers every season.
In response to these challenges, SWISSAID has implemented an agroecology project in this state. Initially planned for 21 villages, it has expanded to an additional 24 villages, supporting a total of 45 villages and 1,125 farming families. Zau Sai is one of the 5,625 beneficiaries. In 2019, he joined the group of farmers supported by SWISSAID and received training in sustainable farming methods, including crop rotation, weed, pest, and disease management, intercropping, as well as the benefits of quality seeds. He immediately applied his newfound knowledge to his family farm, and success followed. “Take the chili crops, for example, the profit we now harvest is four times the production cost. It’s a significant income crucial for our family’s survival,” he shares.
Zau Sai is not the only one filled with enthusiasm. Since the establishment of the project in 2017, a wave of hope has swept across the entire community. One farmer reports that her peanut harvest has doubled, and sunflower seed yields have tripled thanks to agroecological techniques. Further on, a mother of four children explains, “Instead of watering my vegetables twice a day as I used to, now I only need to do it once every two days.”
Daniele Polini, the program manager for Myanmar, testifies to the significant impact that the introduction of agroecology has had on these farmers. “It has allowed them to gain autonomy. Beyond the reduction in pesticide and fertilizer expenses, they have also learned to better manage their income and expenses and set fair prices for their products in the market. This is how we can help people help themselves!”
Armed with sustainable agriculture knowledge, basic accounting skills, and improved access to credit, the residents of supported communities are optimistic. And they don’t seem ready to stop there, as one farmer points out, “Many things have changed. We are investing, improving the lives of our families, and even planning to transition from being landless to becoming landowners.”