In rural Myanmar, sustainable agriculture
is helping stabilize the food supply.
Northern Shan State: World Concern is working with 1,000 farmers in rural communities in Northern Shan State to develop sustainable agricultural practices and address basic community health issues. We are helping village farmers experiment with new crops and agricultural approaches, as well as providing agricultural supplies and training for sustainable upland agriculture, organic farming, and agro-forestry.
To help communities respond to primary health needs, World Concern provides health training, including HIV/AIDS prevention training, and supplies such as bed nets, latrine pans and medicines. Where needed, World Concern is also establishing community rice banks, which offer rice loans to families out of food, which they can repay during the next harvest. World Concern also gives microloans to members of community Self-Help Groups to help them build businesses and sustainable livelihoods, sich as farming. We also facilitate contact between communities and local officials to establish and preserve community forests.
Kachin State: World Concern is leading the fight against HIV/AIDS by through awareness and prevention. We also help prevent malnutrition and hunger through primary health care and agriculture initiatives. Primary health care efforts are focused on preventing communicable diseases, preventing substance abuse (primarily opium), nutrition, reproductive health and clean water and caring for those living with HIV/AIDS. We are also working with farmers to raise more food and have more income so that they will not be forced into migrant labor, which puts them at risk for contracting HIV. Ninety rural communities with about 42,000 people in eight townships in Kachin State are participating in this program.
Mon State: Along the Yangon-Myawaddy Highway linking Myanmar to Thailand, families entrenched in poverty are attracted to neighboring Thailand and the capital city of Yangon where they can find more lucrative jobs. The Golden Rock Pagoda is a year-round attraction luring people from all over the globe. While the pay is good, the risk of contracting HIV in this environment is high.
To address this problem, World Concern is working in Mon State to improve primary health care, strengthen families’ livelihoods and teach youth about safe migration. Primary health efforts focus on HIV/AIDS prevention; caring for those living with HIV/AIDS; improving nutrition of children under age five; providing water and sanitation; promoting food security through agriculture activities; and establishing a community and family forest. We are working in 31 villages in Kyaikhto, Belin and Thahton townships of Mon state, with almost 3,000 households.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, many families in Myanmar (formerly called Burma) had to flee their homes to avoid being conscripted into the armies. Villagers in the ethnic areas of the Northern Shan States of Myanmar were under extreme pressure because of the war between various militias and government forces.
World Concern's programs in Myanmar
include primary health care and
After the ceasefire agreements in the 1990s between the Myanmar government and the armed groups, families tried to re-establish a normal life in previously unsettled areas. But they are ruining the natural forests with slash-and-burn farming which is ineffective. In many villages, most families are unable to grow enough food to last the whole year. This begins a cycle of debt for those families who borrow to make ends meet.
In the “dry zone” of Myanmar, the supply and quality of water are widely recognized problems in many communities. The villagers suffer from diseases such as diarrhea and intestinal diseases caused by the lack of clean water and poor sanitation. In some areas, the same water
source is used for drinking, cooking, washing clothes and bathing – even animals get into the water to drink! Often times, collecting water is a time consuming process that keeps children out of school and robs women of their time better spent learning to read, teaching, gardening or weaving. Carrying heavy loads of water is an exhausting chore that can even worsen health problems, and the lack of water limits families’ ability to grow vegetables.
In this environment, disease is prevalent. Respiratory tract infections are common, and malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and diarrhea contribute significantly to high mortality rates. HIV/AIDS is increasingly becoming a problem because of so many factors which contribute to its rise: Poverty, communicable diseases which weaken the body, high mobility, illegal drug usage and risky sexual behaviors. There is a genuine threat for this epidemic, requiring an immediate and effective response.
Story of Hope: Lashi Bawk Naw
Lashi Bawk Naw, 45, is a poor farmer from the village of Lashap in Northern Shan State. One day as he was working out in his field on a hill far from his home, he was attacked by a wild boar, which lacerated his thigh. He was left maimed and unconscious. When his wife discovered him, she informed the villagers, and immediately his self-help group members sprang into action. They walked for three hours in the night to carry him back to his home. They gave him a loan without any interest for his medical expenses.
Thanks to this self-help group, he is now healed and can work in his field again. Had his group members not responded, he would have bled to death. He is very grateful for the care and financial support from his group. This is something we could not have imagined a short time ago, before the self-help groups were formed. The idea of working together to help a fellow villager, even at their own expense, was not a concept common to their thinking. With the training they have received, they are now implementing what they have learned about working together to achieve common goals.
Story of Hope: Thoughts from a World Concern Fieldworker
Being a poor farmer in Myanmar is a precarious existence. There may not be enough for the family to eat next week. Or if someone gets sick, all of the family resources will go to their care and the children will not go to school. Others in the family may get sick as well and nutrition will be worse as the adults can not go to the field and provide for the family. It is a fine balance between eating and starvation, survival and death.
So it is no wonder that when new ideas for improving the farm production come, farmers are reluctant to try them. Every new idea requires a risk – and that risk may make the farmer’s life much better, but it also may tip the fine balance over the edge in the other way. In 1999, when World Concern workers began talking with farmers in a particular village about planting perennial crops (those that you can harvest year after year such as fruit and nut trees, tea and others), the farmers were interested because they wanted a much more steady crop with less risk and a good market.
But none of the farmers planted the crops. They said the land was a forest preserve and if they planted perennials the land would be taken. So they continued to plant annuals (the crops you plant every year like corn and rice), which were destroying the hillside soil, encouraging erosion and giving poorer and poorer yields every year. That year, the village formed a village development committee (VDC) and the people decided to pay any amount necessary to get the land granted to them. The VDC collected money more than once, but were unsuccessful in getting the land grant.
In 2001, 2002 and 2003, the villagers gave money to their VDC but no land grant was given. Then in January 2004, the people in this village decided to reform their VDC because the old one just wasn’t effective. For the first time, women were members of the VDC (4 women and 5 men) and they were absolutely determined to get the land grant this time. They learned about the process and in May the VDC met with the land office people. Within one month they had their land grant of 65 plots (185 acres).
Now they have started to plant perennials because they have a guarantee of their land. They are looking toward a brighter future for their families where they have enough to eat, clothes to wear, health care and they can send their children to school. Because the land is now theirs, they will continually improve the soil with natural farming methods. They will have a good market for their crops because of their location, so they will have some income to live on.
What a place of hope and promise for this village. What a time of encouragement and joy! The people of the village had to change to experience this – to stop doing things the way they always did, reform their VDC, include women, learn to work with the land officials, understand the rules. But they did it. They did their part and now they can invest in the future.