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.
Harmony Myanmar Agro Group (Harmony) opened its doors for business five years ago in anticipation of this growing demand. The company sells natural farm inputs and applicators, providing vegetable, fruit, paddy, and horticulture farmers with an alternative to heavy chemical application. MEDA has partnered with the company to expand its retail outlets into Shan and Kayin states, where we work with women farmers to improve their knowledge of Good Agricultural Practices and provide access to quality seeds and inputs. While the organic market is relatively new in Myanmar and therefore a bit too risky for many of our farmers to transition to, we train them on Conservation Agriculture, Integrated Pest Management, production of quality rice seeds, and efficient irrigation techniques, all of which help them to adapt to the changing climate.
In Myanmar, farmers are observing less predictable rainfall patterns and increased dryness in parts of the country. Climate-smart approaches to agriculture help them become more resilient to these changes and give them hope to continue to make a profit from their farming businesses for years to come. At the same time, they build resilience into the land and meet the growing demand for local, chemical-less fresh produce.
Harmony plans to expand its customer base to MEDA-connected farmers as well as other farmers within MEDA project areas who need natural inputs. The company prides itself on selling a superior product at a price point that is competitive with chemical inputs. Their products are imported from suppliers in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Turkey, as well as neighbouring Asian countries. These suppliers offer Harmony discounts on their products to break into the nascent but growing Myanmar market. Harmony passes along this discount as well as their own discount to farmers to establish themselves as a key supplier and gain a foothold in the market.
Initially, Harmony focused on a small number of proven products where they expected early high demand. These products included natural fertilizers and pesticides, and spraying equipment. Their ‘flagship product’, organic fertilizer pellets made from chicken manure and sourced from a company in the Netherlands, has generated a lot of interest among farmers. It is a compound fertilizer with three different combinations of NPK as well as MgO (Magnesium oxide) which can be used for fruits, vegetables, flowers, and lawns. Organic fertilizers improve the structure and moisture-absorbing capacity of the soil, increase fertility and preserve the balance of natural soil systems. The fertilizer is also released slowly, which allows plants to absorb the nutrients they need over time.
Harmony makes regular trips to farmers’ plots to tell them about this product as well as their other organic fertilizers, organic foliar sprays, and high-quality knapsack sprayers. Shifting to natural farming can be risky for farmers as consumer demand for chemical-less produce is still nascent, meaning that they are not always willing to pay a premium for vegetables grown with minimal chemicals. As such, farmers need to be convinced that their input cost per unit harvested will not go up. Harmony staff are convinced they have superior products and even let farmers test them on a small plot for a season before committing to a shift to natural farming.
Harmony is targeting vegetable consumers as well, with their scallop shell-based veggie wash. The powder has antibacterial properties that are effective against most common bacteria found in vegetables, such as E.coli and salmonella. It also removes wax, preservatives, mold, and residual agricultural chemicals including pesticides. For rice, it can remove the oxidized oil sometimes found on rice bran, picked up from the milling process.
MEDA’s business matching grant has enabled Harmony to empower women entrepreneurs by selecting and training women sales agents to reach women, farmers, in line with MEDA’s approach to reaching women as primary project beneficiaries. The agents provide farmers with training on adopting a cultivation approach that relies on significantly reducing chemical application. It’s a win-win, allowing Harmony to make a sales pitch on their products, and at the same time introducing farmers to techniques and inputs that place less stress on the land. The company’s new locations in Shan and Kayin states have also provided employment for women agro-dealers. Through its five new women agro-dealers in Shan, Harmony hopes to service over two thousand women farmers. In Kayin the company plans to partner with women agro-dealers in three more locations, reaching an additional 1,300 women farmers.