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    Entries in customer story (4)

    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.

     

     

    Tuesday
    Mar102015

    Hand in Hand

     

    This moment was captured on Saturday, February 28th. One of the hands belongs to U Win Saw, a farmer in Mawgyun Township whose land has been affected by saltwater intrusion for generations. Unlike other farmers who can grow two rice crops a year, he had to make do with the income from just one rice harvest.

    The other hand belongs to Ko San Aung Thu, a member of our Farm Advisory Services team. For the last seven months, he’s been working with U Win Saw to help him shift the traditional harvesting calendar and plant short-life varieties of rice. The aim is to help U Win Saw harvest two crops per year, saltwater and all.

    On Saturday, February 28th, months of hard labor came to a close. U Win Saw was about to put his second yearly harvest through the thresher, and only then would he know how much money he’d make for his first ever post-monsoon crop. The excitement was palpable, and as a group of laborers and farmers awaited the results, U Win Saw took Ko San Aung Thu’s hand. While it’s not uncommon in Myanmar for men to hold hands, in this moment, the trust that had grown between both men was clear.

    For a low-income farmer in rural Myanmar, changing farming techniques can theoretically endanger the brunt of a household’s yearly income. Understandably, a lot of farmers are hesitant to try something new, which is why building trust among farmers is the first and most crucial step in the work of Proximity’s Farm Advisory Services Team. When a farmer agrees, like U Win Saw did, to try double cropping, a member of FAS will visit the farm twice a month to make sure everything is going as planned. In addition to building long lasting relationships between FAS staff and local farmers, these visits ensure that we're up-to-date on the latest pest outbreaks and challenges farmers are facing nationwide. 

    This year, for the first time ever, U Win Saw was able to harvest 210 baskets of post-monsoon rice; that means an additional US $1,100 in income that will allow him to save, invest in his farm, and feel more secure about providing for his family year round.

     

    Tuesday
    Feb102015

    A Proximity Love Story

     

    Maung Kyaw Win Naing admits that he’s not your average seventeen year-old. While many of his peers want to move away and work in nearby cities, he’s been begging to take charge of the family’s farm for years. “I like what I’m doing,” he says, “I like that I can plant something and see it grow, see all the young green leaves sprouting everywhere.” Life, however, takes funny turns, and just when Maung Kyaw finally got his wish, love happened.

    Even though the two of them grew up together in the village of Tha Yat Oak in the upper Delta region of Myanmar, they only started seeing each other shortly before she left to attend university in Hinthada, an hour away. Now in her second year, Maung Kyaw would slip away at any available chance to see her. As love blossomed, the family’s betel plants wilted.  

    Watering the family’s one-acre betel plot took Maung Kyaw and two hired workers five to seven hours every morning. Afterwards, Maung Kyaw managed the family’s blacksmithing and welding business. His father would grow angry if he neglected any of his responsibilities, and his girlfriend would be disappointed if Maung Kyaw couldn’t see her, but he simply had no time to spare. “Until last year, he was really immersed in the farm, but this year, his mind is elsewhere,” remarked Maung Kyaw’s father, as he remembers the tense period for the family.

    Just when it looked like nothing was going to give and no one was willing to budge, a Proximity agent visited the village. The family thought it sounded to good to be true, but Maung Kyaw convinced them to test drip irrigation. The difference was immediate. Using drip, Maung Kyaw spent only one hour a day watering the betel plants. By 7:30 am, he could set off for Hinthada to visit his girlfriend. What’s more, he could do the work by himself, so every month the family saves US $70 on labor and $60 on the diesel that would have otherwise gone to keeping their engine on for five to seven hours a day. Additionally, the family noticed fewer pests and diseases on their land. One and a half months after the purchase, the drip has more than paid for itself.

    These days, Maung Kyaw exudes the same enthusiasm he once had for taking on the family’s business. He’s speaking of planting an additional acre of betel in May, since he could manage the land by himself and still have plenty of time for social commitments. He’s also looking to expand their welding business, and dreams of someday starting a fully equipped workshop. His family is relieved at his renewed commitment; after all, they say, weddings these days can be quite expensive. 

    Wednesday
    Dec172014

    In the incubator: a new financial inclusion product

    There are few things as creamy and delicious as Burmese be u hin (duck egg curry), and yet, the inhabitants of Mhaw Aine Village in Dedaye refuse to believe that duck is a delicacy in some parts of the world. “We’re sick of duck eggs!” Ma Mya Mya Htway says; “we have them every day,” she explains. For some Proximity staff members, this would be a dream come true (cough, cough), but it’s easy to understand why Ma Mya Mya Htway would rather eat pork or chicken; she belongs to a family of duck farmers that have been raising the animals for generations.

    Ma Mya Mya Htway’s mother first taught her the basics of duck farming when she was a child, and to this day she continues to follow her mother's advice. Only two things have changed. The first is the kind of feed she uses for her ducks. The second is that, for the first time ever, she’s received a formal micro-loan to help boost her livestock business.

    While Proximity Designs has been offering farmers micro-loans since 2009, Ma Mya Mya Htway owns no land and doesn’t farm, making her ineligible for a crop loan.  She’s one of countless landless villagers across Myanmar who often have to rely on daily wages from working on others’ land or in the cities to meet basic needs. Even if they start small businesses like Ma Mya Mya Htway has done with her ducks, landless households still can’t qualify for traditional micro-loans from NGO’s or the Myanmar Agriculture Development Bank.

    Because of this, Proximity Finance has started looking into financial services that are more inclusive of non-farming households. These upcoming products, including duck loans and the on-the-go loan, not only provide access to credit to people who’ve never had it before, but also strengthen our social enterprise business model. 

    When Proximity decided to test out a pilot duck loan earlier this year, the $200 loan disbursement was timed to coincide with the yearly lean period for duck farmers in July. While duck egg production rises and falls seasonally, output decreases by more than half during this month. We checked in on Ma Mya Mya Htway two months later, and she reported that business was going well; she used the initial disbursement to buy nutrient rich food that helped her ducks lay more eggs in July, which has helped her save enough money to buy a cellphone. With it, she’ll be able to call the duck vendor in the nearest town directly and secure a better price for her product.

    The duck loans have also had a secondary effect on Ma Mya Mya Htway’s reputation. She’s the group leader for the thirty families in Mhaw Aine that are participating in the duck loan pilot run. While she’s been well-trusted for years, the impeccable job she’s done keeping records has earned her additional respect, both from her fellow villagers and from the Proximity Finance team. Thanks to her work, we're looking to expand the program and make loans available to more duck farmers in the coming year.