It’s been a long road to recovery for the farmers of Wah Kaut Taw.
For most of the residents of Wah Kaut Taw, a small village in Kungyangon township, south of Yangon, farming starts at a young age. U Khin Maung Kyi, 53, has been farming rice on his own 20-acre plot of land since he was 18. He inherited his land off his parents, who were also farmers. When it comes to rice farming, he knows just about everything there is to know.
On May 2nd 2008, Kungyangon was devastated by Cyclone Nargis and Khin Maung Kyi’s world was turned upside down. The thatched bamboo house where he lived with his wife and two sons was destroyed in the gale force winds and his store of rice seed, enough to plant crops for the year, was ruined in the flood. At the height of the storm surge his farm was submerged under 10 feet of sea water.
After the water had subsided and he had taken stock of the damage, Khin Maung Kyi found himself in a desperate position. Planting season was just weeks away and he had no seed to plant.
But he wasn’t alone. His was one of 59,000 farm households who we provided with relief in the form of seed, machinery and expertise to help get his crop in the ground just weeks after the disaster. That was just the first step in the long road to recovery. We continued to keep in touch with Khin Maung Kyi and help him rehabilitate his land until gradually he began to see his yield improve. It took almost four years before he could stand on his own two feet.
In 2010 Proximity Designs began offering its Yetagon Farm Advisory Services to farmers in Kungyangon township. Impressed with the knowledge and dedication of the staff he’d come to know in the years after Nargis, Khin Maung Kyi was one of about 20 farmers in his village who signed up. With a team of dedicated soil scientists, agronomists and farmers at his back, he learned to farm smarter, not harder. Like many of the farmers in the village, he used to think that planting more seeds meant higher yields. One of the first things our staff explained to him was that by selecting only the best quality seeds, he could save money and increase yield. The method simply involves dumping seed into a bucket of salt water. The good seed sinks to the bottom, the bad seed floats.
Our agronomists also advised him on how to take better care of his soil. Most farmers in Wah Kaut Taw didn’t know how to use potassium fertilizer, a commonly occurring element in soil which affects crop quality. Khin Maung Kyi said he had tried to use it once, to no avail.
“FAS staff taught us that each farm is different and needed different amounts of potassium added to the soil,” he said.
For several years after Nargis, he would get a yield of around 30 rice basket per acre. Now his yield has returned to pre-Nargis levels — between 50 to 60 baskets per acre — and the quality is better than ever. With his crop earning more money, the days of taking out loans to pay for seed and fertilizer are gone.
In fact, now free of debt, Khin Maung Kyi has already planned out his retirement. His two sons will take over his farm soon enough and at harvest time they will save a few baskets of rice to give to their parents, he said. But what does he plan to do with all that spare time on his hands? Plant vegetables, of course.