FAO helps rebuild farming livelihoods in Myanmar’s conflict areas

Photo: FAO Myanmar

U Maung Chay, a 48-year-old farmer and father of six, lives in one of the poorest, conflict-prone areas of Myanmar - Rakhine State. He is a member of the Muslim community, which has suffered inter-ethnic violence over several years. Many people in the community fled to displacement camps, while others sought safety in neighbouring countries. In October 2016, unresolved inter-communal tension between the Muslim minority and the Rakhine Buddhist majority once again led to an outbreak of violence.

As the head of his household, U Maung Chay is responsible for providing his family with income and food. However, this is not an easy task. The land he owns allows him to cultivate paddy rice during the monsoon season and pulses in winter season. Although he is better off than other farmers in the same village, he cannot afford to buy quality seeds and fertilizers that would improve his productivity and generate greater income to support his family.

During the monsoon season in 2015 and 2016, as with many other peasants, he suffered from the floods that destroyed his rice field, killed his livestock, swept away stored paddy, damaged his property and resulted in food shortages. The lack of options for replanting became a major obstacle to post-disaster recovery. Because he had no non-farm income, U Maung Chay was forced to borrow food and seeds at high interest rates to support his family and restore agricultural activities.

“After the disaster I had no seeds, so I had to borrow them from other people who demanded 100 percent interest. Since the interest rate was so high, I could only manage to repay 50 percent of my debt,” he explained. Like other farmers in his community, U Maung Chay  had been victimised by a combination of poverty and vulnerability caused by the negative consequences of flooding that left him and many other peasants with unpaid debt. Limited by such complex conditions, farmers end up without resources to grow their winter crop and consequently have to rely on their one monsoon season crop.

To assist these vulnerable agriculture-dependent communities, FAO is implementing a livelihood recovery project for approximately 50 000 people in Rakhine and Chin States with generous funding from the Government of Japan.

Providing time-critical seeds, fertilizer and tools ahead of the winter season will help farmers diversify their agricultural production and will support access to food all year long. By distributing crop seeds suitable for the winter season, peasants will be less dependent on rice production. The diversification of yields will allow these farming communities to become more resilient to shocks, such as the floods that endanger paddy production every year, and which threatens their food security. In addition, by providing these vulnerable communities with farm inputs, they will no longer be forced to adopt negative coping strategies that trap them in a never-ending cycle of debt.

The complementary provision of vegetable kits will diversify the community’s food consumption and improve nutrition. At the same time, villagers who do not have land will benefit from the distribution of livestock that includes piglets, chickens and goats. This provides food for subsistence while also diversifying small-farmer incomes.

“I received black gram seeds, agricultural tools, fertilizer, urea, and a vegetable kit from FAO. All these items are very helpful. Previously, I lacked black gram seeds for planting and fertilizer to apply on my plot. Now I have both and I don’t need to worry about not having the money to buy them. I am also very happy because I have much more fertilizer than usual and I do not have to buy tools. I expect my yields will increase since I've planted good quality seeds and have used a larger amount of fertilizer,” said U Maung Chay.

Despite the support provided by FAO through the current project and previous interventions, a major effort is needed to bring livelihood assistance to those populations affected by recurring crises and disasters. FAO is appealing for USD 5.1 million to scale up its emergency response portfolio in Myanmar. This will include rebuilding agriculture livelihoods that were lost because of disasters and building resilience to break the cycle of poverty and promote food security.

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