Hatching hope: ducks and microfinance in Myanmar

January 7, 2016
Daw Mar Mar Swe at her home in Myanmar.

Daw Mar Mar Swe is "mother duck" to a family of 72 who quickly and obediently follow the instructions of her quacks.

Eight years ago, life changed for Daw Mar Mar Swe when she took her first loan from Pact, 70,000 kyats, enabling her to purchase her first duckling at a cost of 650 kyat.

This was an act of faith and a calculated risk for Daw Mar Mar Swe, who had been burdened by debt and fear for five years since her husband passed away. “He was sick for a long time and I borrowed a lot of money from the village money lender to pay for medication and treatment," she says. "The burden of the loans sat on my shoulders. I worried all the time about paying it back, because I had ten per cent interest to pay each month.”

Desperately worried about providing for her four children, Daw Mar Mar Swe sold five acres from her family's eight-acre farm. However, she remained in debt to the money lender and each year she had to take out three loans from a government bank to plant her remaining three acres.

The Pact Global Microfinance Fund (PGMF) project, funded by LIFT, released Daw Mar Mar Swe from her life of bondage to the money lender. Four months after purchasing them, her ducklings started to lay eggs. The eggs hatched hope in Mar Mar Swe’s life and gradually she cleared her debts. She built a duck shelter and stocked her duck farm. Ducks stop laying after two years and are then sold for meat.

LIFT, the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund, is pleased to fund Pact Global Microfinance to provide loans to rural people with limited livelihoods choices to help them become income secure.

By the end of 2015, LIFT had provided access to affordable credit to more than 250,000 households, mainly through partners PGMF and Proximity Finance. About 75 percent of borrowers are women, and LIFT partners now provide financial services to nearly 80 percent of all microfinance clients in Myanmar.

Daw Mar Mar Swe now has income, not only from her eggs, but also her other diversified investments: a fish farm, her three-acre paddy farm, a betel plantation and a vegetable garden that she replants with seeds from her previous year’s harvest.

Her greatest joy is that she can educate her youngest two children, control her finances and live without the fear of debt. ”The PGMF interest rate of 2.5 percent a month reduced my burden, let me pay off all my debts and improve my livelihood,” she says.

Daw Mar Mar Swe smiled as she turned to her flock in the stream. She gave a quick quack and with a swish, every one of her ducks swam back.

Story and photos courtesy of Jenny Macintyre and LIFT.

LIFT is a multi-donor trust fund that improves the lives and prospects of rural poor people in Myanmar, with generous contributions from the United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States, and, from the private sector, the Mitsubishi Corporation. Aside from financing more than 90 projects to date, LIFT provides technical expertise, targeted research and its position of oversight to improve program design and cohesion for better overall impact. LIFT also works closely with the government of Myanmar to promote pro-poor policies.