Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Burmese National League for Democracy, has seen first-hand the work being done to help lift Burmese people out of poverty.
Ms Suu Kyi was accompanied by Australia’s Ambassador to Burma, Ms Bronte Moules, and AusAID Counsellor, Mr Michael Hassett, on 31 January to projects run under the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) in central Burma as well as villages in Myaing township.
LIFT was established by Australia, the United Kingdom and other international donors to assist recovery efforts following the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Burma is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia. The United Nations Development Programme estimates up to a quarter of Burma’s 50 million people live below the national poverty line and around five million people do not have access to sufficient food and nutrition.
LIFT programs help to increase food availability, income generation opportunities and food use for up to two million people. The programs help combat extreme poverty and hunger in Burma.
Between 2010–11 an estimated 172,000 households, or 860,000 people, directly benefitted from LIFT assistance and the outcomes of these projects are staggering.
In the agricultural sector alone, more than 16,000 farmers have benefited from training and advice on how to maximise the benefit of agricultural inputs. More than 2000 buffaloes and 500 tractors and tillers have been distributed to hundreds of farmer groups.
These resources have enabled farmers to cultivate greater areas and yield better harvests, resulting in increased income for many households and villages.
For example, in Labutta Township, 3902 additional acres of monsoon paddy were cultivated thanks to the buffaloes that were provided—which in turn increased the average yield of the harvest.
The program also empowers tens of thousands of households to generate income through community planning, business training and microfinance activities, such as small business loans.
LIFT has also provided significant support to microfinance activities which cover 2,613 villages and provides services to more than 50,000 poor and vulnerable households.
Ms Suu Kyi was impressed with progress made under the program, and emphasised the importance of the projects’ consultative approach and the work being done to empower people on how best they can use aid to improve their lives.
'I was very pleased to see the initiative of the people in the village,' Ms Suu Kyi said.
As a multi-donor trust fund, LIFT is recognised as a good example of upholding the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the OECD/DAC guidelines on Harmonising Donor Practices for Effective Aid Delivery.
Ms Suu Kyi said international support was vital to help improve people’s lives and assist with new technologies. She commended Australia and other donor-countries for their contributions to the LIFT program, urging other donors to follow suit.
'Clearly there has been good progress, but there is much more work to be done,' Ms Suu Kyi said.
To date, Australia has committed $19 million to LIFT. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, who visited Burma in June last year, said the work being done under LIFT is crucial to improving people’s livelihoods and helping communities lift themselves out of poverty.
'I’m very pleased that Ms Suu Kyi was able to see the work being supported by Australia to improve the lives of the people of Burma,' Mr Rudd said.
Reforms underway in Burma, including the government’s freeing of hundreds of political prisoners, its efforts to end Burma’s ethnic conflicts and its commitment to free and fair by-elections in April, have boosted Australia’s confidence that aid can reach greater numbers of those in need.
'Many important changes are taking place in Burma right now, and it is of vital importance that the reform efforts under way bring tangible benefits to people across the country, particularly in rural areas,' said Mr Rudd.
Australia is the second largest aid donor to Burma and its development assistance has significantly increased in the past two years—from $29.1 million in 2009–10 to $47.6 million in 2011–12.
Australia’s assistance to Burma is on track to reach $50 million by 2012–13.
Burma and the Australian aid program