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    Monday
    May302016

    Paddy to Plate Launch Party

    The Paddy to Plate report is now available for free download here. You can also find our previous human-centered design research on rural smallholders' financial behaviors: Afford Two, Eat One.

     

    Paddy to Plate dives deep into Myanmar rice production to understand how the industry has transformed with recent changes. Building on more than a decade of personal connections with farmers, Proximity Designs has partnered with design firm Studio D Radiodurans to bring these insights to the public.

    Rice has been the backbone of the economy and a staple of the Myanmar diet throughout its troubled history—that’s why we think it’s so vital to rejuvenate and empower its players. This study comes at a critical point in Myanmar’s development, when 3G smartphones are used alongside ancient agricultural techniques, and climate-conscious villagers are using solar power to leapfrog the grid entirely. While this unique working environment presents unforeseen challenges, our human-centered design approach helps reveal opportunities to resolve them. 

    We want to share our experience in this field, and show the world the long and difficult journey behind each grain of rice—as well as the faces and stories of its proud producers. With important implications from the grower through to the consumer, Paddy to Plate is sure to reveal opportunities in an industry poised to power rural economic growth. So join us tomorrow, and dig in!

    Thursday
    Dec172015

    No Sweat Solar-Tech

    U Myat Kyaing and his son U Nyein Hlaing show off the solar panel of their brand new Lotus Solar Irrigation System

    U Myat Kyaing has been farming eggplants in Myanmar’s Pakokku Township for much of his 75 years. With a wry, knowing smile etched on his deeply tanned face, U Myat Kyaing recalls how, for as long as he can remember, he would stumble home after each working day and “wring the sweat from my longyi like water from a towel.” Standing next to him, his son, U Nyein Hlaing, nods along softly in quiet agreement.

    For years, U Myat Kyaing’s daily schedule had been defined by a monotonous routine: Walk. Irrigate. Repeat. From sunrise to sunset, he would walk to an open well in his village, fill up a pair of forty-pound watering cans and then stagger back to irrigate his quarter-acre vegetable and betel plot. With so much time committed to the backbreaking drudgery of traditional irrigation, he was always exhausted and had neither the time nor the capital to diversify his crops.

    Then, a few years ago, U Myat Kyaing attended a product demonstration of Proximity’s kyant ni, or Red Rhino, foot pump. Seeing the pump’s labor-saving potential, he bought one and within just a few seasons, had expanded his plot, increased his income and even bought a smartphone. Two years ago, his pockets a little heavier with the extra funds, U Myat Kyaing made the decision to purchase a diesel pump—in his mind, a logical step on the path to efficiency and modernization. Very quickly, the diesel pump proved to be more of a burden than a boon: he was spending nearly 7,000 (~US$ 5.40) kyat/day just on fuel and operating costs. His engine constantly broke down and it loudly belched noxious diesel fumes while it was running.

    Enter the Lotus, Proximity’s radically affordable solar irrigation system, launched on October 15th. When he saw it during one its early demonstrations in Myay Ni Twin Village, U Kyat Myaing knew he had found a clean, quiet and powerful alternative to a diesel engine. In early November 2015, U Kyat Myaing became the Lotus’s first costumer!

    With a soft chuckle, U Myat Kyaing explains why he likes his ‘new’ job: “I sit in the shade and drink tea. Every fifteen minutes, I get up, walk to the solar panels and redirect them towards the sun. It’s relaxing and quiet.”

    U Myat Kyaing represents the changing nature of Myanmar’s agricultural sector: a forward-thinking smallholder, smartphone in hand, harnessing innovative, affordable technology to boost his productivity and increase his income.  Today, U Kyat Myaing employs a team of fifteen cultivators on his multi-acre plot: a far cry from the days he was eking out an unstable living on a small ribbon of land. As we leave, U Myat Kyaing gets up, adjusts his crisp longyi and enthusiastically exclaims: “now I never sweat!”


    Wednesday
    Oct212015

    Meet the lotus

    What do you get when you mix one signature drink, a custom fountain display, 150+ people, and a spacious new art gallery in Yangon? A product launch; Proximity-style.

    On October 15, 2015, Design Team co-leaders, Taiei Harimoto and Ko Aung Ko Ko unveiled the Lotus, a radically affordable, solar-powered irrigation pump for low-income farmers in Myanmar.

    As Myanmar began opening in 2011, the agricultural landscape also experienced significant change. Cheap diesel engines from China flowed into the market and many farmers invested in them as a way to mechanize their operations, only to find them dirty, difficult to operate, and expensive to run. “This presented an opportunity for us,” Product Designer Taiei Harimoto explained during the product launch. “Our customers’ irrigation methods are no longer the same,” he continued, “which means that they have new needs that we can design for.”

    Having identified this opportunity, Proximity embarked on an intensive human-centered design process to create the Lotus, which is unlike any other solar-powered irrigation pump in the world. Designed specifically for the local market, it is a submersible pump that fits neatly into the two-inch (50 mm) wide tube-wells found commonly in rural Myanmar—at its widest, the Lotus is 49mm in diameter. When working at a depth of 24ft, the Lotus pump can yield over 15,000 liters of water per day. The Lotus is also likely to be the world’s most affordable solar pump, retailing at only US$345, which includes 260W of solar panels. Most solar irrigation pumps available on the market cost several thousand dollars.

    Most importantly, the Lotus makes sustainable farming easy. Although smallholder farmers each own only a few acres of land, they have an immense collective impact on the health of our food systems. The Lotus will provide Myanmar farmers with sustainable options that are also cost saving.

    The Design Team’s unveiling of the new product was followed by a spirited discussion of its specs and limitations: How long does the Lotus last? Lifecycle testing has shown that it will serve customers for at least two seasons. Will there be financing available for farmers who can’t afford the upfront cost? For the first sales season, Proximity is not offering financing, in part to gauge what the demand is for the product now and to determine what type of financing might be optimal for this product. How long is the payback period for farmers switching from diesel engines to solar-powered irrigation? Ten months on average, and the payback period is even shorter for farmers switching from treadle pumps to the Lotus.

    We want to thank everyone who joined to celebrate with us, and if you weren’t able to make it, we will be releasing a short film about the event and how the Lotus is made in Myanmar in the coming weeks!

    Tuesday
    Oct062015

    #solarpumped

    For the past decade, Proximity has created products and services that support the entrepreneurial spirit of our rural Myanmar costumers. The treadle pump has been a central feature of our irrigation product offerings. Sturdy, durable, and affordable, the treadle pump has freed tens of thousands of rural families in Myanmar from the daily drudgery of hauling water to their fields.

    Today, farmers continue to look for efficient ways to save costs and expand their businesses. For many, this has meant switching to diesel engines for irrigation. Though more powerful, these heavy engines are polluting and noisy. Farmers complain about the high costs of running these motorized pumps, including daily purchases of fuel, frequent repairs and the need for extra labor to move them around. At Proximity, we’ve been working to create an alternative.

    On October 15th, we’ll celebrate the launch of our new, solar-powered irrigation pump.  Designed specifically for Myanmar farmers, Proximity’s super affordable solar pump fits into the narrow two-inch tube wells found nationwide on farms. This new product has been in the making for over a year. Now that it’s here, we can’t wait to share it with you.

    Meet The Lotus: 

     

    Wednesday
    Sep092015

    Here's a thought: what if instead of asking people for charitable donations, we asked them for $25 loans?

    Every morning, Daw Lei Lei wakes up to the satisfying sound of her 100 ducks nestled alongside one another in the shed outside of her house in Hmaw Bi Village. After she sets them free, Daw Lei Lei follows the ducks on a small wooden boat as they roam through the nearby pond. She's careful not to lose even one.

    Making sure her ducks are well-cared for is crucial for duck farmers such as Daw Le Lei, since egg production rates can vary greatly depending on the food that her animals eat. Accessing quality feed is crucial to the success of Daw Lei Lei's business, but unfortunately, it isn't always easy. She needs the food the most in July, which is also the leanest month for thousands of duck farmers in Myanmar's Delta Region; because rice farming is in full force this month, duck farmers have to limit the movement of their flocks, meaning production can drop to as little as one or two eggs a day for every ten ducks.

    Starting 2014, Proximity Finance, our micro-finance arm, has supported over 2,200 duck farmers in Myanmar by disbursing micro-loans designed specificallyto help duck growers buy nutritious feed when they need it the most. Proximity can provide these loans thanks to a partnership with Kiva, the largest microfinance crowdsourcing platform in the world. Kiva enables individuals everywhere to support farmers and smallholders in remote villages. By entering $25 into the system, Kiva ensures that 100% of your loan goes directly to the borrower of your choice in one of 83 different countries. When the loan term is up, you can re-lend the money to a different borrower, or withdraw the funds and receive $25 back. Proximity Designs is Kiva's first field partner in Myanmar.

    Daw Lei Lei was one of the first Proximity customers whose duck micro-loan was funded through Kiva. Before the loan, Daw Lei Lei's family finances where often in the red. Her village was gravely affected by Cyclone Nargis in 2008, and the family lost a daughter as well as their seven-acre farm. Since then, the family has survived by farming ducks, but their business was precarious at best. 

    The family used the $200 micro-loan to purchase more ducks and quality duck feed, and even this small injection of cash was enough to stabilize their income. With the increased profits, Daw Lei Lei's husband purchased a boat to start his own transportation business, which in turn yields enough profit to cover their two children's school fees, allowing the family extra breathing room that they haven't had in years. 

    Already, we've raised $1,070,000 through Kiva, thanks to countless individuals who are entrusting rural Myanmar village groups with their loans. We're aiming to lend $500,000 to more than 2,500 duck farmers in Myanmar by November 2015. If you are interested in Proximity's work, you can get directly involved in what we do by lending $25 so that U Win can purchase better feed, or by supporting duck farmers in Chaung Pyar.