Naw Thet Thet Mar and Gurudatta Shirodkar, IFRC in Myanmar
Paddy farmer U Zaw Myo Htike was one of the 2.4 million people estimated by the UN to have been affected by Cyclone Nargis which devastated the Ayeyarwady Delta three years ago. His home and five-acres of paddy fields were heavily damaged.
Due to financial difficulties, he was not able to farm all of his land in the aftermath of the cyclone. Prior to Nargis, he harvested about 48 baskets of paddy per acre. After the cyclone, in the harvest periods of December in 2008 and 2009, U Zaw Myo Htike could only harvest about 36 baskets per acre, and that too was only on a portion of his land. “It was a difficult time for my family and me,” he says. U Zaw Myo Htike lives with his wife and three children in Nyaung Lann village in the township of Dedaye, one of many affected by the cyclone.
Last year however, their fortunes changed for the better. U Zaw Myo Htike managed to farm all five acres of his land and reaped a harvest of 50 baskets per acre in December. He sold 60 per cent of his harvest at a rate of about CHF 600 per 100 baskets.
“I am very happy”, he says, adding that he plans to use the cash earned to cultivate a second round of paddy, during the summer months of March to May. Due to his financial diffculties, U Zaw Myo Htike had only been able to grow paddy once a year by planting during the monsoon season of June to October, then harvesting in December.
U Zaw Myo Htike was able to strengthen his livelihood with the support of the Myanmar Red Cross Society. He was one of 8,721 people selected to participate in a livelihoods project which focused on paddy farmers. He was provided with fertilizer in June last year which U Zaw says was timely. “That is when we start preparing the fields for planting,” he says.
The fertilizers provided were different from the urea which U Zaw Myo Htike had previously used. During training sessions by expert trainers hired by the Red Cross, farmers were taught that these new fertilizers were effective for better root growth and for protection against major pests. Agreeing to their effectiveness, U Zaw Myo Htike says: “There was no difficulty in my farming.” Other aspects of the training provided included the use of technology to produce higher yield and the preparation of organic manure. Impact monitoring of supported farmers is currently being carried out which indicates that farmers are seeing higher yields.
The farmers were also provided with cash grants to cover labour costs. This too has been beneficial, as previously U Zaw Myo Htike had to borrow money from money lenders.
With the promise of good summer and monsoon harvests this year, U Zaw Myo Htike believes his family will find it easier to meet household expenses and maybe even to have some savings. Managing the schooling needs of his three children has also been difficult but now they will be able to continue their education.
The assistance which U Zaw Myo Htike has received is part of the Myanmar Red Cross Society’s extensive livelihoods programme which has reached a total of 26,797 beneficiaries and their families across 11 townships. The programme includes assistance to crop and vegetable farmers, livestock farmers, fishing communities, and small businesses.