Everywhere you hear these words. Since the beginning of political reforms in 2011, the world has had its eye on Myanmar with the expectation of change. Indeed, as the price of SIM cards drops from $200 to $2, as the rate of construction in Yangon renders whole blocks unrecognizable, everywhere people remark that, “Myanmar is changing.” But what does this mean? What does it mean for millions of rural inhabitants? Hours by boat or motorbike from the nearest town, do villagers in hard to reach regions of Myanmar feel that change?
The answer is multilayered and complex. On the one hand, there’s an increase in wages that makes it harder for farmers to hire labor and more attractive for landless families to separate and seek jobs in the cities. On the other, there’s the promise of increased mobile penetration and the hope for better infrastructure; there’s so much in fact, that we’ll be focusing on each of these separately in future posts.
To give you a taste of how change is affecting rural farmers and is in turn shifting our focus at Proximity, imagine yourself taking a seat among 150 Irrigation Sales Representatives who traveled from all over Myanmar to Yangon for the launch of our 11th sales season. The first thing on the agenda is the market disruption caused by increased access to cheap diesel engines. Product Designer Taiei Harimoto remarks that, “imported diesel engines are becoming more popular with farmers.” The big question in this environment, he continues, is whether there is still room for treadle pumps amidst the flood of imports. If not, what new needs are emerging among rural farmers?
Well, diesel engines can be difficult to operate, and require farmers to rely on costly fossil fuels to irrigate their crops. Which is why, Taiei Harimoto continues, Proximity is launching a new irrigation product that the Design Team has been working on for over a year. Scheduled for a formal launch on November 3rd (keep an eye out for more details) this product will be more cost-effective than diesel engines, and will make use of renewable technologies to help our customers engage in sustainable farming practices. The excitement in the room was palpable, as many farmers have already expressed interest in the product during preliminary field tests.
Looking to season 11, we’re investing heavily in skills training for our sales force. Looking beyond next season to a changing Myanmar, we look forward to working in an evolving landscape even while our approach remains the same; be proximate, empathize, constantly re-think solutions, and design for quality, affordability, and impact.