Visiting a small town in the West Bago region of Myanmar, it is clear that the whole area is driven by the agricultural sector: harvested rice fields as far as the eye can see, interspersed with beans and vegetables. On a fieldtrip to visit the newly-set up ‘Shwe Tal Farmers Association’ with local NGO Radanar Ayar Rural Development Association (RDA), we saw how farmers are tentatively exploring the potential of working together.
Blog by Bram Peters, Project Officer for ICCO in Myanmar
In a meeting at the RDA office, 17 farmer representatives from several villages gathered to explore their next plan. After successfully hiring tractor services together, the farmers now explore further opportunities to engage in collective buying of inputs and selling of their rice produce. Their confidence was recently boosted: after finally securing their legal registration, an important milestone in being recognized formally by government departments, a representative of a regional fertilizer company came to them and presented his business, offering a better price if they bought from him together. Using the small startup capital and trainings provided by RDA, through a project supported by ICCO, the farmers now have a bit of financial space and increased capacities to also put some of their own resources in.
The next step is to secure a reliable buyer for their rice, which is not easy. The local rice miller is willing to offer information: on the rice varieties required; the manner in which it should be produced; and the price he might buy it for. However, this will guarantee neither the price, nor quantity of what he will buy. The farmers need to gradually build up their options: first of all, looking further afield for other buyers; secondly, exploring how many farmers in their communities are willing to join this collective selling agreement, and thirdly, ensuring that they can actually deliver!
Now what makes this special for them?
This is the first time these farmers have tried to work together. Although in the past the Myanmar government has encouraged farmer cooperatives these have largely failed due to a lack of purpose, trust and economic benefit. These farmers are now cautiously exploring how collaboration may help them. This can be done by decreasing production costs, increasing prestige, experimenting with new crops (such as soy bean), giving access to new networks with private and public organizations, and strengthening their voice in speaking out on their challenges. The work is still in its early days but perhaps, with teamwork and some support along the way, they can achieve their vision of expanding to the whole region!
About ICCO in Myanmar
ICCO Cooperation has been working with local partners in Myanmar since 2002. The aim of our current program in Myanmar is to empower men, women and youth so they can fulfill their economic, social and civil rights. To do this, ICCO works closely with its local partners on responsible and inclusive development and on peace building and tolerance. For more information on our work in Myanmar, visit our website: https://www.icco-cooperation.org/en/countries/myanmar.