For Myanmar’s rural poor, integrated development plants seeds of change

October 17, 2016

If it wasn’t one thing keeping U Myint Shwe’s crops from growing, it was another.

A small subsistence farmer in western Myanmar’s Seikphyu township, he owned an acre of land where he grew a traditional variety of rice. But his average yield was a meager 60 baskets.

Poor seeds were one problem, but there were others, too. U Myint Shwe had little knowledge about agricultural best practices, and his family lacked access to water for irrigation, so they couldn’t farm during the dry season. They made too little income to afford better seeds or fertilizer, and with nowhere to borrow money, they had no way to invest in their farm to change their circumstances.

The causes of poverty aren’t simple. Rarely is it a single problem that holds families and communities back.

Pact’s Shae Thot project, which serves more than 2,700 villages in rural Myanmar, recognizes this. Funded by USAID, Shae Thot uses an integrated approach to development to tackle problems in a range of areas, including local governance and planning, maternal and child health, livelihoods, food security and sanitation.

By partnering with local organizations and working closely with communities, Shae Thot is building local capacity for decision-making and planning, creating impact that will last long beyond Pact’s presence.

One of Pact’s local partners is an organization called Cesvi, which, with Pact’s support, created community seed banks. The banks “loan” to farmers high-quality seeds suited for local conditions. Farmers repay in seeds with a small markup in quantity as interest. This makes the seed banks self-sustaining. Cesvi also provides free agricultural training to growers – they are called Key Farmers – on the promise that the Key Farmers will in turn provide training to others.

After he borrowed an indigenous rice seed variety called sin thu kha, U Myint Shwe received technical guidance from a local Key Farmer. Around the same time, his wife took a small loan from her WORTH group to buy fertilizer. Another component of Shae Thot, WORTH is a micro-banking model that Pact uses across Asia and Africa to help women lift themselves and each other out of poverty. WORTH brings women together in groups of 20 to 25 to save money, access credit and start small businesses.

A seed bank beneficiary inspects loaned seeds at a bank in War Thon Taw village.

With new seeds, fertilizer and knowledge, U Myint Shwe planted his acre. His harvest soon improved dramatically, to about 100 baskets. With his profits and another loan from his wife’s WORTH group, he had a well dug on his property so he could irrigate. Now he grows nearly year-round.

Having a thriving small business has made all the difference for his family, U Myint Shwe said recently.

“The seed bank mechanism is very good, especially for small farmers like me,” he said.

“Now,” he added, “I don’t worry much.”