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EWS-KT Project Impact: Natural Farming in Myanmar

Posted On: January 18, 2023

Daw Naw Eae Tho, a high school teacher in Kayin state, became interested in vegetable farming when COVID and conflict closed the schools in her township. A Department of Agriculture staff member introduced her to East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation, and in July 2021 she began to learn about seedling production, mulching, pest and disease management, and other good agricultural practices as part of EWS-KT’s Awareness of Natural Farming System in Vegetable Production project. She was also introduced to natural farming methods like organic fertilizers and homemade pest repellents.

That year, Daw Naw Eae Tho grew her first vegetables: cucumbers, yard long beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, and okra. With the proceeds from her crops, she has invested in water pumps for her farm and necessities for her family, including education for her children. Thanks to this project, she has found a new career as a vegetable farmer.

farmer Daw Naw Eae Tho by her vegetable plot
New farmer Daw Naw Eae Tho in front of her vegetable plot.

Implemented from March 2021 through August 2022, the Awareness of Natural Farming System in Vegetable Production project focused on introducing good agricultural practices and natural farming systems to smallholder vegetable farmers in southeastern Myanmar (Mon, Shan, and Kayin states). Daw Naw Eae Tho is just one of the many farmers who have benefited from this project.

In total, more than 4,000 farmers were reached during the project period. Just over 200 key farmers in 100 villages were closely mentored by EWS-KT field staff to establish and manage demonstration plots showcasing good agricultural practices and natural farming techniques. More than 2,600 additional farmers learned good farming techniques through in-field training sessions held at these demo plots. Another 550 farmers were exposed to improved farming practices at public farmer Field Day events.

The project also had a strong training-of-trainers component. EWS-KT conducted a refresher training-of-trainers course for 150 experienced key farmers from five different townships, and these new community trainers reached 750 other farmers, spreading knowledge in their communities.

Technical Farming Knowledge: What Did Project Participants Learn?

The Awareness of Natural Farming System in Vegetable Production project combined standard EWS-KT techniques with natural farming methods:

  • Seedling production – Farmers learned to use insect nets to protect seedlings from sucking insects, which may spread disease, and to use plastic sheets to protect seedlings from heavy rain.
  • Protective culture – Farmers learned to grow leafy crops under protective structures. Protective semi-shade nets reduce the temperature during the hot dry season, and plastic covers protect crops from heavy rain during the rainy season.
  • Organic fertilizer and soil health – Farmers learned to improve soil health and fertility by adding organic matter and organic fertilizers to the soil during land preparation. EWS-KT field staff taught farmers how to make their own bio compost and bio fertilizers, such as fish amino acids and fermented plant and fruit juice, and how to properly store them to maintain potency.
  • Raised beds and drainage – Farmers learned to grow vegetables in raised beds, which offer good drainage in the rainy season and prevent the plants from flooding.
  • Mulching – Farmers learned to use plastic mulch, which prevents weeds and soil erosion and maintains soil moisture, reducing the need for irrigation. Plastic mulch applied over raised beds also helps basal fertilizers to remain in the soil longer, benefiting plants further into the growing season.
  • Homemade pest repellents – EWS-KT field staff raised farmers’ awareness on chemical pesticides and taught farmers how to make their own plant extract juices to use as pest repellents.
  • Waste management – The plastic mulch, seed trays, trellis netting, and protective sheeting that EWS-KT recommends for some crops needs to be periodically replaced, so farmers learned how to dispose of plastic waste safely.

Impact of the Project

Through the Awareness of Natural Farming System in Vegetable Production project, EWS-KT successfully shared improved agricultural practices and natural farming techniques with over 4,000 farmers in southeastern Myanmar. An end-of-project survey found that 75% of responding farmers had applied at least three techniques. On average, farmers increased their productivity by 20% and their income from vegetables by 25%.

The project’s inclusion of natural farming methods raised farmers’ awareness of organic farming and introduced them to low-cost natural fertilizers and pest repellents. With large increases in the cost of commercial fertilizers and other farm inputs worldwide, farmers found that using homemade natural fertilizers and pest repellents enabled them to save money while producing a reasonable yield of safe-to-eat vegetables.

Because there is still little consumer awareness of the benefits of organic produce in Myanmar, the market price for organic vegetables and for non-organic vegetables is the same. While the farmers who participated in the project recognize and appreciate that organic farming produces safe-to-eat vegetables, their inability to charge a higher price for organic produce presents a challenge to adopting solely organic farming methods.

One notable outcome of the project was expanding farmers’ interest and skills in growing short-term crops for extra income. To help farmers be successful in natural farming, EWS-KT staff helped them to select pest- and disease-resistant crop varieties and also encouraged them to plant short-term crops like leafy vegetables and radish. As a result, farmers realized that leafy vegetables and radish—crops that they had never grown before—were easy to cultivate and could bring in income while their other crops were still maturing.

farmer Saw Myo Min Thein harvesting peppers

Before participating in the Awareness of Natural Farming System in Vegetable Production project, 24-year-old Saw Myo Min Thein used traditional methods to grow cucumber, kangkong, and hot pepper. Now he implements improved techniques and discusses farming issues with other farmers through an EWS-KT Viber group. Because of the project, he said, “farmers get more profit, technology, and happiness.”