MEDA Blog

Harmony Myanmar Agro Group: in tune with the land

Myanmar Kayin State

In Myanmar’s Kayin State, much of the fresh produce comes from neighbouring Thailand where it is grown on large farms and chemicals are applied without restraint. Until recently, people in Myanmar knew little about the potential health risks from ingesting harmful pesticides and herbicides, but times are changing and vegetable customers in Myanmar are increasingly connected and informed. As they become aware, there is more demand for locally-grown, chemical-less (or when it’s available, chemical-free) produce.

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MEDA launches innovation fund in Myanmar

Myanmar farmer

Myanmar is a country in transition. After emerging from decades of relative isolation, Myanmar is becoming an important economic actor in Southeast Asia.

With funding from Canada and MCIC (Manitoba Council for International Cooperation), MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates) is implementing a five-year project in Myanmar aimed at increasing women’s participation in the country’s evolving economy and becoming active, respected and empowered economic actors and leaders.

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International Women's Day in Myanmar

myanmar1To mark International Women’s Day 2018, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the fourth in our “Press for Progress” blog series celebrating the power of women entrepreneurs and their partners around the world.

This is an important day for me, my first time to celebrate International Women’s Day in Myanmar since I came in June 2017. I have been in development work for more than 25 years and been working on women-focused development projects in different countries – from Philippines, Bosnia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ghana and now here in Myanmar.

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Why I Cycled 150 km to Support Women in Myanmar

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As a student in the University of Waterloo’s Kinesiology program, I am learning the study of human movement. That means I spend a lot of my time in labs looking at how humans move from a cellular and musculoskeletal level.

In the lab, Electroencephalography (say that 5 times fast) or EEG, is a tool used to learn what is happening in the brain by scanning it. 

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Tool kit to help Myanmar farmers adapt to climate change

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Farmers in Myanmar, as in many other countries, are starting to recognize the need to address climate change to safeguard their livelihoods. They are vulnerable in terms of the potential for increased food insecurity, flooding, drought, and rain patterns variations that are causing climate-driven migration.

In Myanmar, the agriculture sector contributes 33% of GDP. The livelihoods of rural communities and the productivity of the agricultural sector as a whole are largely influenced by climate conditions in these areas: The agricultural sector is impacted by late or early onset of monsoon season, longer dry spells, erratic rainfall, increasing temperature, heavy rains, stronger typhoons and flooding – all occurring with greater frequency.

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And the Winner of MEDA's International Women's Day Poster Competition is...

To mark International Women’s Day 2017, MEDA hosted a poster competition between its international projects to highlight the gender equality and women's economic empowerment work MEDA does around the world. In total, there were 11 posters submitted from MEDA's various projects, and each one of them highlighted how the project is working towards gender equality by showcasing a partner, lead firm or woman who is being bold for change in their community.

Mo Bi is one of our female-lead farmers on MEDA’s Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW) project in Myanmar. This means that Mobi is a model farmer who serves as a leader to a group of women farmers and demonstrates good agricultural and business practices to her community. Along with other lead farmers, Mo Bi receives technical training, leadership and mentorship training, and are linked to savings to improve their financial literacy. MEDA works with key facilitating partners, like METTA in Shan state of Myanmar, and provides technical support and gender sensitization trainings for staff and key market actors. These key market actors include: agricultural extension workers, input suppliers and commodity collectors, who are all members of the IMOW community, but may not have engaged with women before working with MEDA on IMOW.

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Personifying Myanmar

After seven months of living in Myanmar, it was finally time to bid farewell. As I looked outside the car window on my lone taxi ride to the airport, a wave of emotion overcame me as I passed dainty teashops and mega shopping centres – the latter of which were only erected during my stay here. There and then, I couldn’t help but feel I was saying goodbye to a person, rather than a place. A person with a vibrant yet humble personality, a disposition full of surprises, and most importantly, potential. If anything, I was saying goodbye to a turbulent teenager budding to adulthood.

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What happens when a country doesn’t use banks - A look at how the world’s second last frontier economy functions on just cash.

When I first got off the plane at Yangon airport, jetlagged and exhausted from the 42 hour journey, what shocked me most was being handed a stack of 1,000 kyat ($1CAD) bills at the currency exchange - around 500 bills to be exact. Unable to stuff this into my wallet or fanny pack, I asked the currency exchange clerk if they had larger bills, to which she replied “We ran out.” 

The currency exchange counter at Yangon International Airport This was my first glimpse into the nearly non-existent banking services of Myanmar. They say that frontier economies develop in the following order; telecommunications, banking, power & hydro, and finally, consumer goods. While the internet connection is slowly starting to improve here and power cuts have dropped from an average of three times a day to just three times a week, the banking sector is still lagging behind. Decades of hyperinflation and mismanagement have made everyday citizens weary of using existing banks and financial institutions.

To the middle and upper class, the low utilization of banks presents certain problems. For example, large payments must be made in cash since checks cannot be processed without a checking account. An expatriate once recounted to me the story of the first time he prepaid rent – he loaded an entire taxi with cash, went to the landlord’s house, and waited for her to hand count all of it three times in the span of four hours. Getting all this cash isn’t easy, either. Another expatriate had to visit a local illegitimate businessman with a basement stuffed with cash and jewels in order to obtain enough cash to pay the lease on her newly purchased hotel.

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A Day in the Life of a MEDA Intern - Myanmar

7:00 am
Waking up!

This is the view outside of my bedroom window. To the right is the “Myanmar Plaza”; the largest shopping complex in Myanmar that opened just this year. To the left is Inya lake; a manmade reservoir built by the British when they colonized Yangon and named it “Rangoon”.

 7:30 amGetting Breakfast

This little joint is a quick walk from my office and only set up from 6-11am in the mornings. For 700 kyat ($0.7CAD) you can get a full breakfast!

 

Mohinga for breakfast

Mohinga is the most popular Burmese breakfast dish. Consisting of fish soup, rice noodles, deep fried chick pea crackers, coriander, mysterious crunch vegetables and a handful of chili flakes; it’s definitely one of my favorites.

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Making a difference in Myanmar

Female politician

As you know, it is early days for our Myanmar project, Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW). But after a period of dotting i’s and crossing t’s as we built our team and laid our foundation, I am excited that we are beginning the “real work” and seeing areas that, with your generous support, will make a difference for the lives of women in Myanmar.In June, MEDA helped to support the first-ever vegetable and fruit trade fair in Southern Shan state, where I met a woman grower and mango processing operator. Trade fairs are a great way to network and we made many connections, including one with an organic buyer who has since met with our team to explore opportunities. I saw a lot of potential at this fair, but what I didn’t see were many women farmers! So next year, we want to sponsor women to attend the event, raise their profile, and even create an award for best woman farmer of the year. While other organizations may do similar work to us, no one is focused on women, reminding me of MEDA’s unique opportunity in Myanmar.Some of IMOW’s work will also focus on women’s savings group. In one village we visited, the first female politician was just elected (pictured below). She attributes her decision to run to the increased confidence and speaking skills she gained from participating in the savings group. MEDA will be working to help groups like hers go to the next level and encourage even more women to take leadership roles. We hope our efforts in villages in other parts of the country where there are no savings groups at all will result in similar stories of confidence-building and empowerment.

Recently we visited two villages where we heard familiar stories of women’s economic roles in Myanmar: Women share equally in farming, are active in the marketplace, are recognized by men as better price and deal negotiators, and typically handle household finances. Yet the man is still the head of the household and is more visible. He is the one who attends meetings and receives training to build his capacity. He receives invitation to events such as the kind of trade fair we participated in. Women remain behind the scenes. But strongly behind the scenes.Perhaps this G. D. Anderson quote I read just last week sums it up best:“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”

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Of Rice and Rough Patches





MEDA Myanmar currently works in two states – Shan State in the North and Kayin State in the South. I have been here for almost two months now, and I’ve had the privilege of visiting villages in both of these areas and observing the stark differences between them. While Southern Shan villagers have been blessed with the assistance of numerous NGOs due to the lack of armed conflict in the area, Kayin villagers have been tormented for over 50 years by the ongoing conflict. Burdened by a shared border with Thailand, Kayin’s Christian rebel group (the Karen National Union) and Buddhist rebel group (the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army) use proceedings from controlling border trade to fund weaponry used to fight the Burmese Army.

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Pre-Departure Thoughts and Why I Freaked Out about Going to Myanmar

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In my final year of university, I took a mandatory course on business sustainability. As a business major, I found this course was quite boring because of its slow pace. However, our final project influenced me in such a tremendous way that I eventually decided to join MEDA’s work as an intern at its Myanmar office.
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