Myanmar

Conflict, food insecurity and pandemic: A triangle of suffering in Myanmar

LIFT/UNOPS response addresses immediate needs while also supporting longer-term development.

Thousands of Myanmar families share a typical plight of being stuck in a cycle of conflict, rising levels of food insecurity and protracted healthcare crisis, and many have experienced multiple displacements, leaving behind their homes, crops, and livestock. For the first time, the number of displaced men, women and children in Myanmar has exceeded one million, including 700,000 people displaced by the conflict and insecurity since the military takeover in February last year. Host communities who were already struggling to sustain their livelihoods are also supporting those that have been displaced.

The Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT), a multi-donor fund managed by the United Nations Office for Projects Services (UNOPS) delivers relief, livelihood and resilience programming to vulnerable communities across Myanmar aiming to sustainably improve household food security and community resilience to economic and climatic shocks and stresses. Below are several examples of how LIFT/UNOPS and its partners help support vulnerable communities and households through income generation and employment creation, strengthening of food systems and nutrition support, natural resource management, and community asset creation in a challenging environment.

Support for community-based health services

LIFT and partners work with local health practitioners, volunteers and ethnic health service providers to strengthen the community-based health services by providing a wide range of integrated health, WASH and essential nutrition services to more than 300,000 people including internally displaced people, the elderly, people with disabilities, migrants, pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children, and adolescent girls.

Cash-for-livelihoods support

38-year old Ma Toe Lwin (name changed) from Mawlamyinegyun has what’s called a ‘strong business intuition’. Knowing that a high fishing season is approaching, she launched a fishing net weaving and repairing business, with cash-for-livelihoods support from LIFT’s partners. Having been in the fishing business since her early 20s, Ma Toe Lwin is able to distinguish the quality of fishing nets but it was the lack of capital that didn’t allow her to stock nets for trading before the fishing season.

With cash support from LIFT, Ma Toe Lwin mobilised a group of women to produce about 100 fishing nets, in time for the upcoming fishing season so they can be sold to the fishermen. During high seasons, Ma Toe Lwin’s enterprise can employ up to 75 women allowing for a faster production chain. Proceeds from their sales are shared between the group members while a portion of earnings is saved for future investments.

Agriculture development support

“We keep using traditional growing methods and our planting has faced a lot of problems like pest infection and plant diseases. We did not know very well about the proper usage of fertilizers and pesticides, which caused us low yields”, said U Saw. Having struggled for years, U Saw sought knowledge of advanced agricultural techniques that would help him to improve his farm production and support better access to healthy food for his family.

When the LIFT-supported project reached the village, U Saw eagerly joined the training on agriculture to learn small-scale agri-business, good agricultural practices, and plant protection techniques. The practical sessions led him to explore natural composting methods, soil preparation methods and soil pH measurements. “In the past, I used to apply ready-made pesticides on my farm. So, it was costly and I also didn’t wear any protection while I was using chemical fertilizers and I often suffered from nausea and vomiting”.

Saw was convinced of the health benefits of organically grown crops, and he upgraded his farm to an organic farm. “The project supported me with a capital fund and black bamboos which are necessary in cultivating tomatoes. Tomato is the main crop I grow and I had an acre for purely organic cultivation this year. I applied all the agricultural techniques I learned from the training and the capital support of the project also helped me step up my farm. The yield this year has really increased as I expected. I am really happy that my earnings are pretty well and I can even repay all my debts,” said U Saw with a big smile on his face.

The traditional farmer who used the chemical fertilizers in the past is now stepping up as a leading farmer in the area who shares with his peers on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) that he received from the training. “We need to protect our land and environment by reducing the usage of chemicals so we are introducing organic farming step by step”, a proud and dedicated farmer U Saw said.

Support and assistance for internally displaced persons

But as the COVID-19 crisis deepened, Khine Mar lost all sources of income. “It has not been easy for us since the pandemic hit. Some organizations provided us with assistance such as food and essentials, but travel and access restrictions made such support irregular”, he said.

So he sought domestic work around his neighbourhood but there was little demand. He thought he had left such uncertainty behind when he fled his home village. Khine Mar was among other residents of the camp to receive a cash transfer of 65,000 MMK, provided by LIFT through its partners as a means to help IDPs cover their most basic food needs or purchase other basic items and services to protect themselves from COVID-19 and its socio-economic impacts.

“It’s the first time I receive such significant support and it was timely and helpful”, said Khine Mar of the cash transfer.

He used part of the payment to buy food for his children and is cooking more nutritious meals for his children. By scaling up multi-purpose cash transfer assistance, food assistance in kind and vouchers, cash/food for work schemes, psychosocial support and counselling services for trauma and gender-based violence, LIFT and partners have reached over 131,000 vulnerable people with social protection programmes in 2021 alone.

Supporting small-scale community enterprises

“We all joined a dry fish (snakehead fish) production training and learned how to cut fish by removing skin and bones and preserve it without using chemicals. We sell our product locally and online, and then share the profit while keeping 5 per cent of earnings in our group’s saving fund,” said Daw Myint.

It takes the group seven to ten days for a full production cycle - from purchasing raw fish to selling the ready product. Each member’s profit is sufficient to cover their household expenses such as food, education and healthcare while savings are planned for investing into other businesses. “Dried fish production is a seasonal business, and we are thinking of launching some farming enterprises too”, concluded Daw Myint.

Relief & Resilience response across Myanmar, including people living with disabilities

In 2021, 30 of LIFT’s partners from different thematics and geographic regions utilized $11.6 million USD for Relief & Resilience response to reach about 900,000 vulnerable people including internally displaced persons and people living with disabilities in different states and regions of Myanmar with multi-sectoral emergency aid. It is the hand-in-hand collaboration with partners that enabled LIFT-funded support to help restore and boost resilient livelihoods while strengthening the food security of vulnerable groups.

Nutrition and WASH awareness

In Kachin and Northern Shan, over 12,000 women from the most vulnerable households have been part of LIFT-funded nutrition-sensitive activities which included nutrition and WASH awareness, training in home gardening and in-kind support (food and WASH items).

Improving working conditions for women garment factory workers

Everyday, hundreds of unskilled women come from rural areas to cities to work in one of over 400 garment factories. Working in a garment factory is often the only possibility for young women from rural areas to earn money and become economically independent, and the income they generate is also used to support the families they’ve left behind. However, working in a garment factory also poses several challenges for these young women: while trying to navigate life in a new city without their family, friends and support network, the women also face harsh working conditions in the factory every day. In an effort to improve working conditions for women workers at garment factories, LIFT’s partners initiated a pilot to collaborate with a factory to upgrade its infrastructure by building or renovating canteens, toilets and healthcare facilities as well as installing cooling systems to provide some basic comfort and amenities as well as to create a space where the women are able to interact with each other. Though at its very early stage, the pilot has already proved success as workers appreciated improvements and it resulted in higher productivity and higher incomes.