Seeds of resilience

Khing Khing Soe has been growing rice, groundnuts, pigeon peas, sesame, chickpeas and onions for over two decades on her farm at Ba Lon village in Myingyan district of Myanmar. But in the past three years declining rainfall as a result of climate change has reduced her crop yields by about 30%.

Changing weather patterns have also taken a toll on the cotton, sorghum and groundnut output of farmer U Aung Aung in nearby Thein village in the Mandalay region of central Myanmar.

“Climate change has caused us to start sowing later than what we did in the past. Rising temperatures have also caused the yield of our crops to fall considerably,” he said.

U Aung Aung and Khing Khing Soe are among a dozen local farmers taking part in a programme that aims to help them overcome the challenges and improve their prospects. Initiated by the telecom service provider Ooredoo Myanmar, the Sustainable Enterprises and Agricultural Development (SEAD) project is also supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.

The initial phase of the 15-month programme includes distribution of high-quality seeds and product demonstrations at 40 field demonstration plots in Myingyan and Nyaung U townships, which will serve as field schools, creating a foundation for stronger income diversification and more resilient livelihoods.

Farmers will be able to gain climate-resilient farming experience while learning about good agricultural practices and livestock husbandry, receiving more timely weather forecasts and training materials, all disseminated through webinars, podcasts and short demonstration videos via YouTube and social media channels.

According to Ooredoo Myanmar, the project is aimed at promoting climate-resilient agricultural practices and food processing while strengthening market links to increase farmers’ incomes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on the local economy.

Quality climate-resilient seeds are critical for vulnerable farming communities in the dry central zone, said U Tint Naing Htut, the company’s head of corporate communications.

“Many sectors have been significantly affected by the global pandemic, including the agricultural sector,” he said.

“During this difficult time, we believe mobile technology can be a solution for farmers to have better access to technical information for sustainable farming. This is an opportunity for us to enhance the livelihood of the farmers who are the backbone of our country.”

The local subsidiary of Ooredoo Group of Qatar was awarded a licence to operate in Myanmar in June 2013. With the objective of enriching people’s digital lives, Ooredoo Myanmar today offers a range of services for consumers, businesses, government agencies and small and medium enterprise (SME) customers.

Over 10,000 farmers are anticipated to benefit directly from the project. This includes farmers participating in the various capacity building programmes such as agriculture demonstration, livestock rearing, and training in the use of mobile applications.

The project costs US$500,000 and is equally funded by UNDP Myanmar and Ooredoo.

Activities are centre on Myingyan and Nyaung U townships in Myanmar’s Dry Zone, an area covering 54,000 square kilometres that is among the most climate-sensitive regions of the country.

The project will also help match supply with demand for sustainable farming, said U Tint Naing Htut. As well, it will add value and connect farmers to markets as well as improve access to credit through the use of mobile money.

Organisers say the project will benefit 130 villages in Myingyan and Nyaung U townships, improving the livelihoods of farmers. It will also promote equality and inclusiveness, with at least 30% of women farmers engaged in community agricultural and livestock groups.

Climate-resilient seeds are one key to a more sustainable future for farmers. SUPPLIED

Migration to urban areas for work is common in the region where chronic poverty is linked to drought and dry spells.

“High concentrations of poverty in rural areas and frequent natural disasters which pose a risk to agriculture and livelihoods, particularly in the Dry Zone are among the major development challenges faced by Myanmar,” said U Tint Naing Htut, adding that the aim is to create a model that can be replicated elsewhere.

The UNDP is supporting the project in line with its goal to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals through innovative interventions for women and farmers. These interventions are aligned with the Myanmar Sustainable Development Policy (MSDP), which seeks to achieve people-centred, inclusive and continuous development, and more recently with the government’s Covid-19 economic relief plan.

“We are pleased to strengthen agricultural extension services by building the capacity of relevant government departments and farmers to leverage mobile communication technologies for outreach and dissemination through demonstrations and farmer field schools,” said Dawn Del Rio, officer-in-charge and deputy resident representative of UNDP Myanmar.

Timely and reliable information provided to farmers will lead to improved productivity, resilience, food security and rural development to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, Ms Del Rio noted.

Operating in more than 170 countries, the UNDP provides technical assistance, policy advice and development support services to help countries end extreme poverty, reduce inequality and achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UNDP supports agriculture and livestock development by coordinating with local agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department and the Department of Agricultural Research and providing equipment and assistance. By doing so, it can also help support development of agriculture-based micro-enterprises.

As more farmers receive training under the SEAD project, they in turn will train their peers. This will enhance decision-making capacity at the community level in order to build up sustainable agricultural practices.

Field school lessons, meanwhile, will be prepared and packaged on virtual platforms in the form of an application developed by the SEAD project in collaboration with the government and social media sites.

As a main objective of the project is to improve mobile-enabled extension services for farmer, Ooredoo is providing technology, software expertise and connectivity. It will also promote its mobile money platform for financial inclusion in rural areas.

The plan also includes deploying village kiosks where farmers can obtain agricultural knowledge, financial literacy and other support. More employment opportunities for women will further support empowerment.

For Khing Khing Soe, joining the SEAD project will enable her to develop knowledge about mixed cropping and to use a mobile application to learn more about farming practices and cultivation. She has received groundnut seeds and animal manure and is learning to apply intercropping.

“I expect to improve my knowledge and experience for cultivation, and get information on weather forecasts and markets after joining the project,” she told Asia Focus.

U Myint Naing Oo, whose crop production has fallen by about 75% as a result of climate change, said he wants to learn how to choose the right soil, crop varieties and cultivation methods for high-yield production. The training is expected to equip him with techniques, particularly for growing drought-resistant varieties.

“Climate change is getting worse these days,” said U Myint Naing Oo, who has been farming for 25 years. “By using digital technology under this project, I think farmers like us will have enhanced skills to build a resilient agricultural and food system and survive the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.”

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Source : Bangkok Post

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