When I moved to Canada at the age of 11 from the Philippines, I found the transition to a new culture and climate to be quite challenging. Being back in Southeast Asia for my MEDA internship, I am reminded of home.
When I landed in Myanmar, I was a reminded of my childhood; from the simple village lifestyle where everyone knew each other to the bustle of the city. The Philippines of my childhood (perhaps even my grandparents’ childhood) is the Myanmar of today. Myanmar only recently began implementing democratic principles and policy after many decades of economic isolation and military rule. Currently, the country and its people are facing many challenges due to conflict, climate change, inequality and poverty.
When I arrived in Yangon, Myanmar I was greeted by a flurry of emotions. During my first couple days, it rained all day and despite using an umbrella, I found it difficult to walk through the slippery and flooded streets of the city. I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming here – but I decided to persevere. Fortunately, I had traveled to Myanmar at the end of the monsoon season and the sun began to appear over the next couple days. This changed my perspective and I watched the city change in front of me. Suddenly, the city became colorful and lively with vendors selling a diverse range of products; the beautiful holy pagodas became more accessible (and less slippery). This change of perspective reflected my professional experience with MEDA; as the rains ceased, the areas of operation became more accessible.
MEDA’s project in Myanmar is called Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW) and it aims to increase the contribution of women to the economy and provide market linkages with the country’s local businesses. The project plans to achieve gender equality by increasing the income and status of women as small producers through agriculture, business, and savings group training in rural areas while strengthening their access to goods and services by providing them training in accounting, marketing, and farming. With equal participation for both men and women, higher productivity and increase in yields can be accomplished – which reduces hunger and poverty.
The IMOW project will increase local companies’ provision of goods and services to women farmers through a matching grant program. An approved company receives a certain amount from MEDA if they commit in providing their own funds towards a certain goal like purchasing new equipment, constructing a new facility, and/or adapting a new practice while being sustainable and providing more opportunities for women.
I was fortunate to meet some of IMOW’s female lead farmers (FLF) and see their crops. We went to Kayin State (near the border to Thailand) where flooding occurred during the monsoon season and forced many farmers to replant their rice seeds. Despite the blistering hot sun, one of MEDA’s FLF showed us one of her demo plots where she applied the agricultural methods that were introduced in her IMOW trainings. The rice crops were more resilient and grew higher than their traditional counterparts. Clearly seeing the difference enforced her belief and trust on IMOW’s trainings and methods.
In the following week, we interviewed four companies that are supported by the IMOW project in Southern Shan State. The weather was a complete contrast, as it was like Canada in autumn! We visited their female sales agents and their producers’ farmlands. Their ginger and cauliflower crops grew higher due to better irrigation systems and organic fertilizers. They also made more money by having a direct connection to both local and international markets, receiving more premiums as oppose to middlemen’s low payments.
My time here in Myanmar is coming to a close, with only 2 remaining months of my 6-month internship.
It has been a pleasure to directly witness and to contribute to the changes that the IMOW project is doing.