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    5 things to know about working in rural myanmar

    After ten years of the ground, what have we learned about working in rural Myanmar? This week, Proximity co-founder Jim-Taylor answered that very question in an article he wrote for Devex. Titled "5 Things to Know About Working in Rural Myanmar," he discusses everything from how mobile penetration will affect businesses, to how Myanmar is different from Vietnam:  

    There are 65,000 villages in Myanmar. Many of them can be reached only by boat, motorcycle or ox cart.

    Often viewed as Asia’s last untapped market, Myanmar is unsurprisingly attracting a growing number of international companies and development organizations that want to participate in — and benefit from — its economic and political transition.

    Rapid and dramatic reforms and a steady transition from military dictatorship toward democracy have also encouraged traditional donors to up their pledges for the Southeast Asian country, earning its place as one of few “donor darlings” among developing countries.

    But unlike nongovernmental organizations, whose development and humanitarian work is being slowed down by a lack of effective systems to handle and administer foreign aid, for-profit firms and social enterprises face fewer hurdles. That’s not to say they don’t face any challenges though.

    The full version of this article first appeared on Devex. Read the full article here. 


    Are you up for the challenge? 

    Think about it: rural farmers who tend to a few acres of land have an immense collective impact on the health of our food systems. They are caretakers of our most important natural resources, and in Myanmar, the odds are stacked against them. Climate change has shortened the monsoons by 40 days. Crops are now more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Farmers go into debt to buy pesticides many don’t know how to use. Simple agricultural knowledge can have a huge impact, not only the success of an entrepreneur’s farm, but on the collective health of our planet.

    To address the issues facing farmers, Proximity offers Farm Advisory Services (FAS) that help rural households become more resilient. Our team of 25 crop advisors helps over 10,000 farmers a year diagnose crop diseases, treat pests, and adopt proven climate-smart techniques that increase farm yields and incomes. We’re working on spreading this service throughout Myanmar, which is where you come in.

    We’re taking a leap into peer-to-peer fundraising and are accepting donations to provide more farmers with access to income-boosting agricultural knowledge. Proximity is one of the participants in this year’s Skoll Social Entrepreneurs Challenge. If you’re familiar with our history (rest assured, there will be a test) you might remember that we received their 2012 Social Entrepreneurship Award.

    Skoll has pledged up to $ 3.25 million in matching money to organizations that are racing against the clock for six weeks to raise money. This week, Skoll has promised to give Proximity $1,500 if we can raise $3,500. That means every dollar you give can help us unlock $1,500.

    On average, every $1 you invest will generate $12 of increased yearly income for a vulnerable rural family. Not to mention, your contributions will help shape the future of agriculture in Myanmar. We might be biased, but that sounds like a good investment to us.

    To donate, join our fundraising team, and learn more about the challenge, visit our Crowdrise profile.




    Myanmar is Changing

    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 early 2015 (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. 



    1000 Words: Spotted in the Ayeryarwady Division

    While their parents attended a workshop led by Proximity Farm Advisory Services, these children played outside, every now and then peeking in. Check back next week to learn more about how climate change is affecting farmers in Myanmar's lower Delta region, and what they can do to mitigate some of these changes. 


    Cash-for-work, Education for Life


    Dar Hat's village leaders stand with students in front of the local school

    Proximity’s infrastructure projects are designed to have two-fold benefits: in the short term, families receive daily wages for their work at a time when jobs are scarce, and in the long term the village benefits from new ponds, footpaths, and embankments that increase connectivity or improve access to water. We were amazed, however, to see one village in the Dry Zone turn the daily wages into a long-term village fund that two years later, is still helping families access free education. 

    When Dar Hat’s 43 households gathered to renovate their village pond in 2012, village leaders collected $5 USD from every family – the equivalent to 1-2 day’s work on the pond. They inaugurated a village fund, whereby anyone in the community could borrow up to $200 USD at an interest of 10% per month. Though this is quite high, it’s actually lower than the customary 20% per month interest rates offered by other informal moneylenders in the region. The village then used the interest income from the loans to pay the schoolteacher’s salary, freeing families from the burdensome fees they had to pay to send their children to primary school. 

    Up until this point, families had to pay variable fees to send each child to school. These fees increased as students got older, making it more expensive and difficult for families to send students to upper elementary classes. Now, however, all the villagers in Dar Hat can send their children to elementary school for free.

    Since the pond renovation, the inhabitants of Dar Hat village have water for household use year-round. What’s most remarkable, however, is how village leaders continue to use the initial cash injection from the pond renovation to work for the community.