Small and smart agriculture in the Myanmar Dry Zone
The Dry Zone of northern Myanmar suffers from erratic rain, thin vegetation cover and soil that is becoming increasingly degraded by severe erosion and destructive farming practices. Between 2015 and 2018, we supported GRET to improve rural communities' adaptation strategies regarding climate-related hazards, and to strengthen the resilience of small farmers in 6 townships in the Sagaing Region.
GRET worked at farm, community, district and national levels to improve the adaptation strategies and increase the resilience of rural communities in the northern Dry Zone of Myanmar. The interventions aimed at positively impacting people’s livelihoods while supporting a transition to agroecology.
Despite the extremely challenging environment, several agronomic measures and advisory services have been successfully put in place to reduce soil erosion, increase farmers’ average income, disseminate agro-ecological farming practices, and strengthen the networks and knowledge of farmers and extension services.
- Nearly 600 people benefitted from simple, practical and affordable soil and water conservation measures – trenches, stone bunds, windbreaks, dams and contour bunds – at pilot sites in 6 townships (Monywa, Yinmabin, Budalin, Ayadaw, Pale and Salingyi). These measures resulted in increased water retention, improved soil fertility and higher productivity.
- About 500 small farmers directly increased their basic agricultural knowledge and skills through advisory services offered both by Farmers Field Schools and through an initiative called Management Advice to Family Farmers. This initiative used ‘champions’ to support small farmers to manage their family plots as small enterprises, helping them become more profitable, achieve increased food production and sustainable use of water and soil resources. The farmers now have a good working knowledge of essential practices like seed selection and seed production, pest management, line sowing, intercropping, composting, basic accounting and post-harvest handling.
- The agro-ecology practices tested and disseminated during the programme reduced seed costs by 60% and fertilizer costs by 30% according to research on 3 of the pilot sites.
- Over 300 very small and vulnerable groups increased their skills and income thanks to vocational training on food processing and liquid soap production. They were also involved in cash for conservation work.
- The systematic involvement of state actors in trainings, such as students and teaching staff from Yezin University - the only agricultural university in the country - and delegates from the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, promoted the dissemination of good practices in soil restoration and climate adaptation.
“Before we started the production of rice vinegar, I had to buy expensive pesticides in Monywa. I had no alternative. But when I sprayed them in the fields, I could feel my face and legs burning. Now I mostly use natural products, but it depends on the pest infestation. Let’s say that 80% of them are natural pesticides and 20% are chemicals. Before, I used to buy these fertilizers in advance, contracting a debt that I then repaid after the harvest. The money I save producing these natural products goes on day labourers and some home commodities. I have also improved my yields thanks to a new quality of sesame seeds I bought”.
“I used to grow pepper, cotton and sorgo. After having put all the conservation measures in place, I could switch to tomatoes, a more valuable crop, because more water was available. I earned 1 million kyats from my second tomato harvest. One day, I saw that one of the other farmers was collecting water with a pipe just using gravity. It was an eye-opener. I copied the idea. I bought a pipe. Pipes are not expensive and now I have even more water.”
“I didn’t know how to keep a record of costs. Not systematically. I just had a rough idea of how things were going. But now I know how to register purchases, sales and payments. I’ve become the book keeper in my village!
But that’s not the only thing I’ve learnt. After the harvest, I learnt how to control pests, how much pesticide I need to use, how to protect myself.
I feel like I am running a small enterprise now, which is my farm. And I feel I’m somehow more in control of what happens. Not always, but often. Proof is, I’m now building a new house.”