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    Entries in farm advisory services (6)


    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.



    What is it like to have tea with royalty? We ask our staff to find out

    When the King and Queen of Norway visited Myanmar last week, they made it a priority to meet ordinary civilians who’ve proved themselves to be strong community leaders, be it by championing alternative education in Myanmar, or helping villages improve access to water. This past Tuesday, December 2nd, two members of Proximity were invited to have tea with King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway along with a number of other unsung heroes of Myanmar.

    Ma Toe Toe Kywe in one of the Dry Zone villages where she works

    Ma Toe Toe Kywe’s humble demeanor and youthful smile are the first things to greet you when you meet this strong female leader. Her commitment to improving the lives of rural people arose from her own upbringing in Oh Yin Village  (Myaing Township) where her parents harvested sesame and peanuts to support her while she studied industrial chemistry in university. In return, she’s dedicated the past four years to helping communities renovate rainwater collection ponds while earning a daily-wage for people in need of seasonal work. Throughout the course of her time at Proximity, she’s risen to the rank of team leader, and has helped 87 villages rehabilitate their ponds. Now a proud member of  Proximity Finance, she’s hoping to employ her previous experience with pond rehabilitations to help small-plot farmers in Myanmar access affordable credit to build robust businesses.


    U Myo Myint with farmers U Thein Sein and U Thain Soe

    Accompanying her was U Myo Myint, a lifelong environmentalist and the head of our Farm Advisory Services Team. With over 40 years’ experience as an agronomist, during which he served as the head of the Plant Protection Department for the Ministry of Agriculture, U Myo Myint came out of retirement in 2008 after Cyclone Nargis threatened the food security of millions nationwide. Since then, he’s devoted himself to developing best fit, climate-smart techniques that help farmers throughout Myanmar improve their yields and save money on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The 29-person team that he leads assists over 10,000 farmers a year, but somehow, U Myo Myint still greets farmers by name and whenever he travels to the field.

      “For us, it was a great honor to meet Queen Sonja,” U Myo Myint said. “I was really surprised when I was invited. Why did someone like me who works at a community level get chosen to talk to her majesty?” While U Myo Myint’s conversation with Queen Sonja never touched on the subject, the answer to this question is clear to the rest of us at Proximity; we’re constantly humbled to work with local leaders such as these two, and are excited that they had an opportunity to share their personal commitments to social impact directly with the King and Queen of Norway.

     Proximity's Ma Toe Toe Kywe, U Myo Myint, and Debbie Aung Din, ready to meet Queen Sonja


    U Ngwe Aung's Myanmar Landscapes

    U Ngwe Aung is a prominent Burmese artist who’s donated seven landscapes to Proximity’s Crowdrise fundraiser. To learn more about his work (and learn how to get a hold of one of the paintings), read below:

    “Painting is in my nature,” U Ngwe Aung says in between a smile and a chuckle, “when I was in grade five or six, I didn’t pay attention in class. I would see an image in my reference books, and I would just start sketching it out.” More than forty years of dedication has brought U Ngwe Aung a long way from copying textbooks. Nowadays, his enrapturing landscapes of Myanmar’s Shan State leap from the canvas, literally.  The vibrant colors he uses are inspired by the deep, rich red soils of the region, which the artist then treats so that hues intermingle, crack and meld into one another to produce richly textured pieces that delight from up close and afar.

    Nowadays, U Ngwe Aung has a busy schedule of upcoming exhibits both in Myanmar and abroad, but he had his start at the local Bogyoke Market, where reproductions of pagodas and monks are a dime a dozen and sold to tourists for pennies. U Ngwe Aung claims that what he did back then wasn’t “art,” and proceeds to poke fun at his old “copy-paste” style. “You copy what you see and you paste it on the canvas,” he explains with a good-natured chuckle. It was all about the market, about what customers wanted to buy.

    It’s certainly ironic that he’s experienced much greater success once he moved past such considerations. His works are now valued at $2,000 and above, and they're often exhibited at River Gallery, among others. Nowadays, U Ngwe Aung is much more concerned with the process of creation than with the act of painting on its own. With these landscapes, he tells us he feels for the first time free to innovate, to join the picturesque with the playful, the insane, and the surreal.

    When asked why he was so willing to donate his time and art to Proximity’s efforts to broaden on-the-ground support for rural farmers, he tells us: “For me, giving is more about the receiver. As long as there is someone who is in need and sees value in what I am doing, then I will give.” What’s more, he adds, his own father was a farmer in Myanmar’s Delta region and struggled to send his son to art school in the capital. Especially when it comes to Myanmar, “most of our parents were farmers at one point,” U Ngwe Aung explains. At Proximity, we’re humbled by U Ngwe Aung’s generosity, and are excited to share his creations with the broader global community  (cough, cough, you). 

    To take a closer look at the seven paintings donated by U Ngwe Aung, check out this gallery we've created


    The Simplest thing farmers in Myanmar can do to increase their incomes


    Our Farm Advisory Services techniques are all about simplicity. We've purposefully searched and selected climate-smart farming techniques that will not cost farmers a significant amount to implement, and that are easy to understand, explain and re-create.

    Take, for example, Salt Water Seed Selection. All farmers need to do is mix water and salt. At what ratio? The water should be salty enough that an egg can float in it. Then, farmers can dump in all of their rice seed. Bad seed floats, good seed sinks. By only planting good seeds, farmers significantly boost their yields by 10-15 baskets per Myanmar acre, which in turn improves their incomes. 

    U Chit Oo, a farmer form Yae Kyaw Gyi Village in the Myanmar Delta, believes that salt water seed selection was the main thing that helped his harvest go from 90 baskets per Myanmar acre to 144 baskets the next year. He tells us, 

    "I met the FAS team too late. If I had met them two years earlier, my business would be a lot better, and I’d be living in a big brick house.”

    We're currently raising money to expand the reach of our FAS services throughout Myanmar. With your help, other farmers won't have to wait to access climate-smart farming knowledge. 


    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.