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!”