A modern, greener solution for farmers

When brown lesions and spots started showing up on their crops and spreading across acres of rice fields in Dedaye township, Ayeyarwady Region, back in 2014, farmers thought it was a pest or insect attack and doused the crops with pesticide.

“Some farmers used large quantities of the most potent pesticides they could find in Myanmar, wiping out not just the entire rice field but also the birds that fed on the crops as well,” said Ko Thein Soe Min, co-founder and director of innovation of Green Road, a Myanmar agri-tech company.

As it turned out, the crops had been hit with rice blast disease, which is caused by the Magnaporthe oryzae fungus.

According to the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development of Australia, the disease is considered one of the biggest problems faced by rice growers worldwide because of its extensive distribution and destructiveness under the right conditions,.

At the time, Ko Thein Soe Min, an agriculture expert, had been out of town and was not reachable by phone. When he returned, the farmers had already lost their rice.

From this experience, Ko Thein Soe Min decided to find a way to connect farmers with agricultural experts in Myanmar. He was born into a farming family and graduated from Agricultural

University in 2009. In 2011, he started his own business that grew organic lettuce to supply to hotels and restaurants.

From spending most of his time advancing development of the country’s agricultural sector, he developed a deep understanding of farming challenges in Myanmar and in doing so noticed that what was lacking is a agriculture website tailored for local farmers. He later developed an app version, leveraging technology for further development.”

In 2016, Ko Thein Soe Min launched Green Way, the country’s first agriculture website in the Myanmar language.

“When we want to know something, we have to surf the internet, but most important topics are written in English, which is a problem for farmers in Myanmar,” he said.

“In 2014, the farmers weren’t able to differentiate between diseases and pests. So they wrongly used pesticides. This was compounded by the fact we couldn’t reach out to them in time. This made me realise that we were then in need of a medium between farmers and agricultural experts,” said Ko Thein Min Soe.

“Our main objective is to share necessary farming and agriculture-related technologies and information with farmers through websites and applications on mobile phones.”

Currently, the website mainly answers questions about pests and diseases for crops. Some farmers also ask questions about climate and crop selection.

While the website has overcome a major language hurdle, there are still problems due to the many different dialects spoken in Myanmar. The company is trying to overcome this by incorporating more dialects spoken by different ethnic groups in the country.

Now, those who use the new Green Way application can also input capital expenditure and calculate returns on their investments.

“Only if one starts to see this as a business will they start to look at profits and losses. Farmers will start to think of ways to increase income by reducing herbicides use and boosting crop yields, the thought process and practices will change,” he said.

Beyond offering advice and information, farmers can also purchase chemical nutrients and seeds online via the website. This year, Green Way is expecting to enable farmers to sell crops online via the website and app.

Another forward-thinking initiative by Green Way is a mobile agriculture lab that is currently operating around Shwebo and Kyaukse townships in central Myanmar.

“The laboratory vehicle features equipment and personnel to perform analysis of soil and crops. We go to villages with the lab. Before we go, we inform the villagers in advance and instruct them to bring anything they want analysed. We do the tests and provide consultation to address any issues the analysis discovers,” he said.

“The app is free. Farmers don’t need to pay anything and there are now more than 150,000 people using the app. Among the users, there are many experts, approximately 8,000 to 9,000.

Agriculture graduates are also using the app like a reference book,” said Ko Thein Soe Min.

The majority of users are from Mandalay, Magwe and Sagaing, according to the company’s data.

“In Dedaye, there is a great need for more information about agriculture. Some farmers are already using the app, but it is still not widespread and more people need to be educated about the benefits of the app,” said U Yan Lin Aung, a local farmer.

“If they want to really benefit farmers, they should cooperate with the relevant authorities and departments and share the methods,” said U Yan Lin Aung.

Ko Thein Soe Min says he worries about Myanmar’s agricultural sector and hopes more educated youths become interested in agriculture.

“Agriculture is not just a tradition. It needs to become a business and business needs investment and profits,” said Ko Thein Soe Min.

Source: Myanmar Times

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