18.04.2011: For the first time since super-cyclone Nargis hit southern Burma/Myanmar almost three years ago, the farmers in the worst-affected area are finally getting back on their feet.
”Now I have enough food for my family and also seeds for planting next year” explains the young farmer Kyaw Win with a quiet smile on his lips.
50 big bags (about 50 kg each) full of rice are stacked in his 20m2 bamboo hut. But there is still room for the family’s sleeping quarter, a small kitchen and his wife who is seated on the ground and busily turning palm leaves into roofing so that the hut will be dry during the coming monsoon.
Naing Myo, their 3 year old son, is playing elsewhere in the village together with his grandfather.
Kyaw Win and his small family lost almost everything during the cyclone, including his bigger brother and his family who drowned in the water that flooded the village. Now he has taken over the brother’s 9 acres (about 3.5 hectares or about 4 football fields) of farm land and works hard for the survival of his family – and its future.
Last year almost all the crop was eaten by rats that multiplied into hundreds of thousands following the death of their natural predators – snakes and owls – at the hands of the cyclone.
Moreover, scrub and weeds grew high in the fields that farmers could not afford to farm and thus became a haven for the rats.
“Last year I could only harvest 15 bags of rice per acre” Kyaw Win explains with a sad glance. “I could not repay my debts and did not have enough rice even for my own family.” He and most other rice paddy farmers across Burma/Myanmar go into deep debt every year to pay for seeds, farm labour and fertilizer. Most of their harvest has already been mortgaged even before the seeds are in the ground.
The interest rates to the loan sharks are at least 10% - a month. Following the cyclone and the rat plague it was almost impossible to cultivate the land – and completely impossible to pay back debts.
Kyaw Win and a few other thousand farmers in the area have made good use of the support they have received from DanChurchAid’s local partner since the cyclone hit. Water buffaloes, power tillers, agriculture tools, seeds and money to pay farm labour have transformed the almost abandoned fields into a record rice harvest. The yield has increased by more than 50% - the only good harvest in 3 years. Kyaw Win has harvested 50 sacks of rice per acre and paid off most of his debt for the last two years. "We can now see hay stacks in the fields again" he explains.
“When I had high debts I was much pressured. Now I feel very relieved.”
Farmers as local experts
The farmers have taken an active part in the planning and implementation of the project, which has been a great success. They have functioned as local experts, selected the best and cheapest suppliers of seed – and travelled around the area with the project staff to find the healthiest and most sturdy buffaloes at a good price.
This has ensured that the received assistance has been relevant to their specific area, the costs have been lower than expected and beneficiaries have actively taken responsibility to reconstruct their local community while gaining new knowledge and skills.
With support from DCA the local community has also organised a larger ‘rat eradication campaign’ where both awareness-raising materials, rat traps and removal of bushes, which have served as breeding grounds for rats, have been implemented. However, the most effective measure has been the reconstruction of small embankments and simple canals between the rice fields that store water for irrigation and keep the rats away from the crops.
The work has been carried out by poor landless workers who in addition to payment for their hard work have also gained an extra income as they can now again catch fish in the flooded fields.
However, Kyaw Win is most happy with his buffaloes which he has bought as part of the project. They are used to plough the land and transport the harvest home. Now they are resting under shady trees right outside his house. One of them is pregnant and is due to give birth in June. Other farmers have given their buffaloes names but Kyaw Win is not a sentimental kind of young man.
Sharing the harvest
Following agreement with the village committee he has paid part of his harvest – 70 bags of rice – as a contribution to another poor farmer who in this way has been able to purchase a pair of buffaloes himself. Thus the 10 water buffaloes the village got last year have now almost doubled in number – and almost all the fields of the villages can now be farmed again.
The landless workers have now got some work – and the farmers some peace of heart and opportunity to cover their basic needs and invest in agriculture.
Kyaw Win’s family cannot afford luxury goods but now there is finally money for today and a little for tomorrow. “This year we can afford the most basic which we have not been able to buy the last few years, such as clothes…” he explains.
The hard daily work does also leave room for dreams about the future. “If we get a good harvest like this one in the years to come, then we can invest in agriculture tools and more buffaloes”, Kyaw Win adds. But the plans and dreams do not stop here. “I hope my son will become a doctor” he ends with a shy smile.