Dr. Ai Thanda Kyaw serves as Winrock’s F2F Country Director Burma. She has more than 20 years of experience as an agriculture and agribusiness expert, team leader, and researcher. Fluent in both Myanmar and English, Dr. Kyaw has master’s degrees in ecology and business administration, and a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science.
Complex challenges face Myanmar’s smallholder farmers. The United Nation’s Risk Model ranks Myanmar as the most at-risk country for natural disasters in Asia because of frequent floods, cyclones, and droughts. Declining soil fertility, unpredictable rainfall, and rising costs for inputs such as seeds and fertilizer cause further hardships for rural families. To overcome these challenges, producers are asking for technical assistance from the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program to help them identify and adopt low-cost, sustainable farming technologies.
The F2F Program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and leverages the expertise of skilled U.S. volunteers to increase agriculture sector productivity and profitability, and strengthen agricultural sector institutions. The Asia F2F Program, in particular, implemented by Winrock International, aims to generate sustainable food security and economic growth in the agricultural sector by introducing new technologies and innovations, and developing local capacity for more productive, sustainable, and equitable agricultural systems in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar. In Myanmar alone, Winrock has mobilized over 65 volunteers through the Asia F2F program to support rural development and increased incomes for smallholder farmers.
In 2014, Charles Mitchell, former Natural Resources Conservation Service agent and an organic farmer himself, trained vegetable growers on sustainable agriculture practices, such as the use of cover crops, green manure, crop rotations, and bio-fungicides. Mr. Mitchell demonstrated the process to produce an on-farm, locally-made fertilizer as a means to forestall outbreaks from the use of imported fertilizers. This not only improves soil quality but results in a cost savings of $5.93 per liter for vegetable farmers who now produce their own fertilizer. One farmer in particular, Mr. U Myo Naing, increased his output from 60 baskets of vegetables/ha to 80 baskets/ha with application of the on-farm fertilizer. Between June 2014 and May 2016, Mr. Naing reached 160 farmers spread across three townships in the Magway region. With new knowledge on sustainable agriculture practices from an American farmer, Naing has grown from being a laborer to being a farm owner who now provides six other workers with employment.
Brian Flanagan, an international agriculture and rural development specialist, conducted a F2F training for the Mandalay Mango Farmer Group on simple post-harvest handling and processing techniques for mangos. His training taught farmers to use simple harvesting and post-harvesting methods such as how to decrease sap burn, how and when to pick the fruit, and how to store and transport the fruit. Mr. Flanagan also demonstrated how to build and use drying racks and a solar dryer using locally-available materials to improve food safety and decrease drying time for mango leather production. Before the training, the Mandalay Mango Farmer Group thought that a solar dryer and improved post-harvest practices would be costly to implement. In contrast, the training provided them with easy, applicable harvest and post-harvest practices to improve the quality and food safety of their products, increasing their earnings from mango leathers by 200 percent.
Several F2F volunteers have provided avocado farmers with trainings on easily-adoptable crop management techniques such as grafting and pruning. By implementing these practices, one avocado farmer was able to produce consistent high-quality, uniform avocados to export to Hong Kong, increasing his sales by over $3,000. He proudly explained, “I am a 70-year-old man and I never before knew there were many factors affecting avocado production. With Farmer-to-Farmer training, I learned those [factors] and I try to practice as much as I can on what I have learned. Maybe because of that, this year gave me a lot more fruits. When I start loving my trees and fruits, they
start loving me, I think.” Among avocado cluster members that have received training, pruning is the most adopted of all the agronomic management practices. This simple practice leads to improved fruit quality development and mitigates trees’ susceptibility to diseases. One farmer, in particular, was able to add 1,500 new avocado trees after pruning 500 of his trees. With the techniques introduced by F2F volunteers, growers will now be able to meet the demand for high-quality, uniform avocados.
To date, through F2F volunteer technical assistance, Myanmar farmers have implemented improved technologies on over 14,000 hectares of land and are now offering over 100 new or improved agricultural products and services.
Do you have skills in agricultural development that you’d like to share with others? Check out the Farmer-to-Farmer webpage as well as specific opportunities with Winrock. Funding from USAID pays for international travel expenses, while the host organization (who receive the service) contributes local hospitality.