In Myanmar today, many women farmers are also taking part confidently in discussions with groups of men. They have been on courses where they expanded their knowledge of agroecological cultivation methods and built up their self-confidence. With the help of SWISSAID, farmers’ interest groups have been set up which particularly support women. One of them is the farmer Hla Than.
This project, which SWISSAID is implementing together with four partners, is aimed at small farming families in 35 villages in the southern Shan state. The household income is to be increased and the quality of life improved through agro-ecological cultivation methods. Gender equality is also a central theme. Women are supported with special courses and participation in village groups, their position within the community is strengthened.
Every year, numerous pilgrims and tourists are attracted to the mountain region around Pindaya, a city in Myanmar’s Southern Shan State, by the 8,000 magnificent Buddha statues in the limestone caves. Away from the tourist stream, in the mountain village of Chock Check, is the home of Hla Than. The 35-year-old lives here with her husband and three children, 7, 12 and 16 years old. Affording the most basic necessities is an everyday struggle for the smallholder family. Most families in Myanmar’s rural areas are dependent on agriculture. They produce crops such as rice or tea, and live in extreme political, economic and ecological insecurity. Women have a doubly difficult time: traditionally, it is men who are considered the decision-makers in the family and in community life. Women take care of the household and work in the fields – they are not allowed to have a say. In Hla Than’s family things were no different. “In the past, my general knowledge and knowledge of agriculture was very poor,” she says. Her status in the village and in the family was low and she hardly dared speak out.
Today, Hla Than and her husband grow organic tea, which brings them in a small but regular income. With the help of a range of processing equipment co-financed by SWISSAID, such as a tea roaster, they were able to improve the quality of their tea. Hla Than also belongs to a village group which was set up with the support of SWISSAID. She has attended courses and training sessions and broadened her knowledge about agroecology and healthy nutrition. The group supports women in particular, strengthening their skills and self-confidence.
“In the past, all I knew were the traditional farming methods. Thanks to the courses supported by SWISSAID, I am now usng new technologies that have increased my total tea leaf production by 20-25%. This meant I could afford electricity for my house for the first time. Now my children can now study and read in the evenings in a healthy environment.”
Nan Htay (44), is an organic farmer from Du Tae Yae. She is married and has 6 children.
In training courses, men and women are encouraged to question gender roles. For Hla Than, taking part in the group had an enormous impact: “Now I can have my say and teach my family in particular about the importance of growing and eating organic food.” Thanks to her respected position as treasurer of the group, she has also become a decision-maker in her family.
From the mountain village to the world
Supporting communities in organising and promoting themselves plays a key role in reducing poverty for the long term. In partnership with local authorities and organisations, SWISSAID is supporting 35 villages in four districts of southern Shan State in Myanmar and has helped to establish many village farmers’ groups.
Hla Than still has to struggle, but now her family can look to the future – and Hla Than enjoys a new self-esteem: “I am a stronger person today,” she says.
“Before my training in the women farmers’ group, I harvested 128 kg of tea leaves per season on my farm – today it is 180 kg. I am proud of my tea; the leaves are top quality. My income has gone up a little. We have put the extra money towards our children’s health care.”
Khin May (35), is a tea farmer from the village of Chock Check. She is married and has three children.