How the RLED-EWEC Project is paving the way for female farmers in Myanmar
Myawaddy Township spans more than 1,210 square miles which cover 50 villages within 15 village tracts. Characterized by its fertile topography, the township stands as the main producing area of maize in Kayin State accounting for around 65 percent of the total sown area in the country. In one of the villages of Ingyin Myaing in Palugyi village tract, a 47-year-old woman wears a hat of different kinds. Meet Daw Yee Win, a smallholder maize farmer, agro-input dealer, lifelong learner, and mother of three.
“I have 66 acres of upland on which I grow maize and cucumber,” Daw Yee Win explains as she does a quick check of the fertilizer bags piled in front of her house. “I also grow black gram on patch of land where water is available all year round – one thing that I learned from Shwe Ingyin,” she claims. Shwe Ingyin refers to the farmers group formed in 2018 through the facilitation of Mekong Institute’s Regional and Local Economic Development – East West Economic Corridor (RLED-EWEC) Project. By joining the maize farmers group, Daw Yee Win along with 35 other farmers received capacity building and skills development on improved cultivation, crop diversification, and integrated pest management, to name a few. They were also equipped with technical skills related to group management and operations, problem solving, bookkeeping, and cooperative development. “If all group members engage in collective action such as this, I believe our village can socially and economically advance at a faster rate and of wider scale to benefit everyone in the community,” she adds.
Like most smallholder farmers, Daw Yee Win was inevitably challenged by the lack of knowledge on market information and financial management as well as limited access to quality yet reasonably priced farming inputs. She recalls how she used to purchase fertilizers on credit from Thai traders despite high interest rates: “Instead of enjoying the fruits of my labor, my earnings had to be redirected to paying off interest rates and loans. I could not even save enough money for my family. It was a really tough time as we didn’t have many options back then.” It was through the RLED-EWEC Project’s tripartite model that opportunities began to branch out – facilitating better access to preferential loans, reducing costs of agricultural inputs, and boosting quality and productivity. “Since I joined the group, I now acquire farming inputs on credit from Awba Company at a much fairer credit terms and this has contributed to an increase in income,” she says which is also in part due to the know-how and techniques on efficient fertilizer application imparted by the Project. What used to be two bags of basal fertilizer for three split applications has been reduced to one-and-a-half bags for two split applications. “That equates to a savings of 22,500 MMK (approximately $14.79) per acre every year!” she delightfully adds. In turn, Daw Yee Win pays it forward to her fellow maize growers through her own dealership of Awba Agro-input Company in Ingyin Myaing village in the southern part of Myawaddy.
Moreover, smallholder farmers have been introduced to microfinance companies that lend lower interest rates for agricultural loans and were also provided with hand-pushed seeder to strike the balance between precision and efficiency for the next crop season. With improved livelihood and multiplied income, Daw Yee Win has rechanneled her earnings in preparation for her children’s education which, according to her, is of utmost priority. “I’ve always dreamt of sending my children to university however, I was always concerned about our finances. My youngest son is in Grade 11 and is set to take the matriculation exam soon. My worries have been replaced with excitement – thanks to Mekong Institute not only for assisting smallholder farmers like me but most importantly, for providing an opportunity of securing a brighter future for our children,” she concludes.