The Tale of Six Sisters

San San Maw learns how to separate the good seeds from the bad.

Proximity Designs
Feb 21, 2018 · 3 min read
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San San Maw (center), surrounded by relatives and neighbors.

Among the 124 households in Nga Pi Chaung village, located in the Ayeyarwady Delta of southern Myanmar, only one is run by six women.

San San Maw lives with her five sisters, ranging from 46 to 58 years old. All of them are single.

She is the fourth oldest of the six sisters, and leads a household that cherishes family values, supports each other and works together. To save costs, they don’t hire spare hands aside from the busy harvest time. They nurture the entire farm themselves even though their field is five times bigger than the other Nga Pi Chaung farms.

From the five acres of land they inherited years ago, the sisters have expanded their business to 27 acres. Most of their time is devoted to tending the field.

One issue that has particularly troubled the sisters is seed quality. Like most Myanmar farmers, they have limited access to good-quality seeds. Over the years, the sisters mastered broadcasting, a technique in which seeds are spread over the field and raked over to bury the seeds just beneath the surface. But broadcasting with bad seeds mixed in means that plants grow sparsely. Consequently, paddy health is compromised and yield plummets, putting their efforts to waste.

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The six sisters’ house (middle) resides in Ayeyarwady Delta, a rainy and humid region of Southern Myanmar. Boat is the primary means of transport here (left). Owning boats is not only an investment, but also a symbol of wealth. To the right, San San Maw looks out in her field.

During the 2015 monsoon season, San San Maw met Proximity’s Farm Advisory Services field staff at an introductory meeting. Thin Thin Oo taught her about a new technique that we call saltwater seed selection. It’s a simple trick that separates high-quality seeds from the light, empty ones, using the saltwater’s density. All you need is an egg, a basin, a large net, some water and salt.

Add salt to the water in a basin, enough to make the egg float. Then, add the rice seeds using a net and remove the seeds that float to the top. The remaining rice seeds are strong and ready to be planted.

San San Maw, like any savvy farmer, first tested this technique on one acre. Her yield increased by 8%. For every season that followed, she has used saltwater seed selection for all of the land.

Thin Thin Oo was so pleased with San San Maw’s farming fervor that they could frequently be found chatting like old friends — about pest outbreaks, disease control, and how to build strong boundaries. They would gossip about family and friends, too. In Nga Pi Chaung, the sisters are the go-to guides for the other villagers. Their neighbors often pop by with questions that the sisters eagerly answer with Thin Thin Oo’s advice.

Without finishing high school, the six sisters run their farming business like sophisticated entrepreneurs. They farm, harvest and invest in more fields and livestock with the extra income.

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“We prefer our current lifestyle and the freedom it gives us,” San San Maw said.

She has started a farmers’ club in their village that shares knowledge and ideas three or four times a season. Next season, the sisters will invest in building stronger barriers to combat the monsoon rains. They know Thin Thin Oo and the Farm Advisory Services field staff will be by their side throughout the entire process.

Proximity Designs is an award-winning, farmer-focused social enterprise based in Yangon, Myanmar.

Proximity Field Notes

Stories about farmers, rice and Myanmar, told by Proximity…

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