Smart irrigation for family farms

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Myanmar – a nation of 60 million people, 35 million of whom are small-plot farmers – is one of the poorest countries on earth. Most farmers still lack electricity, credit and the technology they need to be more productive and improve their lives. Yet, they are the backbone of the country’s agrarian economy. With a team of designers, engineers, agronomists and ethnographers, Proximity Designs creates and sells low-cost durable products and services to thousands of family farmers in rural Myanmar. We’re supporting their efforts to design, produce and market affordable and innovative irrigation technologies in the Ayeyarwady Delta and Central Dry Zone.

Duration
2018-2020
challenge
Natural Resources Management
country
Myanmar
partner
Proximity Designs

Context

Small farms are the epicentre of poverty around the world. Nowhere is that truer than in Myanmar, a land of immense need and tremendous opportunity, where 70% of the population relies on agriculture and 84% of rural households lack electricity.

The technological advances of the past 50 years have bypassed Myanmar’s farmers, who not only lack access to basic farm technologies, knowledge and credit, but are also extremely vulnerable to climate risks and changing weather patterns.

Action

Proximity Designs is a social enterprise that designs, produces and sells low-cost, low-tech equipment to small farmers with the aim of helping them increase and stabilise their production and income for food, health care, farm re-investment and education.

Irrigation technologies are a particularly promising means of addressing many of the difficulties facing small farmers, as most still rely on inefficient, antiquated methods of drawing water or use diesel pumps for “flood” irrigation practices. Water saving technologies such as sprinkler, mist and drip systems offer compelling value for small farmers as they conserve water and improve yields (by 50%), reduce the need for pesticides (by 30%) and often lead to higher-quality crop harvests.

Proximity Designs respects and treats rural people as customers who choose whether or not they want to buy a product.

“It’s about giving people choice and therefore dignity. We don’t decide what people need, they tell us through the marketplace whether our products are valuable.”

Debbie Aung Din, Co-Founder of Proximity Designs

Proximity Designs uses a human-centred design approach that focuses entirely on the rapidly evolving needs of small farmers. All their irrigation products are either manufactured or assembled in Yangon. The organisation has a sales network that can reach more than 9,000 villages across 125 townships.

Expected results

  • 30,000 new family farms adopt irrigation products
  • Farmers using irrigation products increase their annual income by an average of $250

Long-term strategy

Being a social enterprise, Proximity Designs aims to achieve deep and sustainable large-scale impact. Its income from irrigation product sales covers almost 50% of its total irrigation operating expenses. The organisation will continue to improve its financial stability with the aim of achieving 60% of costs covered by sales income by 2020.