Rice farmers seize opportunity to grow after crisis

News and Press Release
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© Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps

When natural disasters strike they don’t just damage homes and businesses — often, they wipe away entire economies.

Six years after Cylone Nargis devastated Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Delta in Laputta Township, communities are still struggling to revive the agricultural industry, rice, that is central to the region’s economy.

Rebuilding after such a crisis is a slow process, but the undertaking also provides a powerful opportunity for vulnerable communities to build back stronger than they were before.

For poor rice farmers in rural Laputta, who struggle to compete in the country’s volatile economy, learning how to grow better crops and establish sustainable livelihoods is vital for them to prosper.

That’s why we’ve been working to restore — and strengthen — the agricultural sector in Laputta. Our Beyond Recovery program is developing the market system, helping farmers improve their production, and creating new opportunities for families to build food security so that they are better prepared to withstand future challenges.

U Hla Tun is a rice farmer in the Irrawaddy Delta. “Because of the storm I lost my house, seeds and livestock,” he says. Although the storm is long passed, he is still struggling to rebuild his business and is not yet able to produce as much rice as he did before the disaster.

“The variety of rice we grow here, Paw San, can get a good price,” U Hla Tun says. “If we can produce enough to sell, and good quality, there is a good market for it.”

That’s why we’re providing 1,000 vulnerable farmers like U Hla Tun with businesses and agricultural training, equipment, soil and supplies to help them restore their operations and improve their overall production.

Nargis flooded more than 600,000 hectares of land with seawater, which left the soil in poor condition for growing crops.

Our microloans help farmers purchase pesticides and biofertilizers they couldn’t afford after losing their farms and income. The biofertilizers help farmers rebuild the quality of soil that was lost from the cyclone and increase their production year by year.

We have also negotiated a credit program that helps farmer’s groups purchase new farming equipment like tillers, seeders and water pumps. The mechanized equipment significantly cuts time and labor costs and improves farmers’ overall profitability.

Milling is an important link in the rice value chain, so we’ve helped upgrade modest local milling facilities to reduce breakage and loss of grain in the milling process. Better milling means farmers can sell their rice at more competitive prices.

Rice is the staple crop in Laputta, so when farmers benefit, the entire economy benefits. We host business forums so farmers can meet other business owners involved in the rice market, like millers, suppliers and buyers.

U Aung Chan Sein’s agribusiness, Shan Maw Myay, has benefitted from the new business relationships he’s formed, as more farmers are now buying the fertilizer and livestock medicine he sells.

Farmers participating in the program also receive business lessons like basic bookkeeping, calculating profits and business planning. The training helps ensure farmers also have the financial know-how they need to build successful and sustainable livelihoods.

Farm workers without their own land also lost jobs after the cyclone. We helped them form Village Vegetable Groups (VVGs) to grow their own crops to sell, utilizing land that is idle during the winter.

The VVGs focus on the production of green yam, tomatoes and chiles, which have a high profit potential and grow well in the winter conditions.

“There is high demand for vegetables around here because there isn’t much variety in the market,” says Daw Win Win Aye, who participates in a Village Vegetable Group that uses empty rice fields, which are traditionally tended only during monsoon season, to produce vegetables for income.

Through the group’s monthly meetings, she’s learned proper agricultural techniques and been connected to vegetable seed sellers in Laputta.

Though the road to complete recovery is long, families in the Irawaddy Delta are proving that great progress after a catastrophe is possible.