Proximity’s Farm Advisory Services is set to expand with two new leaders at the helm.
Nang Seng Aye is passionate about soil. As one of just a handful of people in the country with a Ph.D. in Soil Science, she looks at the ground beneath her feet and sees so much more than just dirt.
“Soil is a precious, a non-renewable natural resource made up of minerals, organic material, and billions of living organisms. Without it, life wouldn’t exist,” says Nang Seng Aye.
It was a conversation many years ago with a soil scientist while Nang, then fresh out of Yezin Agricultural University, was working at the Ministry of Agriculture that set her on the path to becoming one of Myanmar’s leading agronomists.
“The soil scientist really inspired me. He taught me we’re so focused on what’s above the ground. We look at the vegetables and think ‘do they have any pests or diseases?’ but we should also be thinking about the health of the soil.”
Nang left the Ministry a year later to study farming practices in Israel, then to Belgium where she completed a Masters in Soil Science, and eventually to La Trobe University in Australia, where she completed her Ph.D.
In July last year, Proximity was delighted to welcome Nang Seng Aye onboard as our new Chief Agronomist. Since arriving at Proximity Nang’s been working non-stop overseeing the expansion of Farm Advisory Services which includes setting up trials of planting techniques on new crops like sesame, organizing agronomy and providing basic soil science classes for Yetagon Irrigation staff.
“This is the first time we’re expanding agronomy training to include our irrigation staff” said Nang Seng Aye. “Soil and water are closely related, which is why it’s important for them to also have agronomy knowledge. We want them confident in their knowledge when advising farmers on what system works best for their crop.”
Working closely with Nang and the agronomy team is Sandar Aung, who joined Proximity as FAS’s new Head of Business Operations in April. Sandar, who completed her MBA at ESCE in France, has 25 years of on-the-ground experience in business operations abroad and in Myanmar, which includes founding a relief agency to administer aid in areas affected by cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Sandar brings her unique blend of commercial and social impact experience to FAS as it looks to increase revenue over the next five years by targeting half a million new farmers.
Since joining, Sandar has prioritized the expansion of nascent digital agronomy services such as our Facebook pest and disease chatbot and Shwe Pyo, an SMS-based message service that aims to deliver timely and useful farming techniques and solutions to farmer’s phones. In May, the operations team also launched sales trainings to 100+ field agronomists as part of the ongoing rollout of the Soil Health Diagnostic Service, which provides farmers with easy-to-understand recommendations on which fertilizer to use specific to their soil.
“Previous experience shows that when farmers pay even a nominal amount for agronomy advice, they’re far more likely to implement what they learn on their farm,” said Sandar Aung.
“We want to get to the point where our agronomists are able to clearly explain to new customers why this service is worth the cost. Once they see the return on investment at the end of the season they are convinced they made the right decision.”
The addition of two experienced leaders puts FAS in the best position to build on the growth of the last three years, a period which saw us serve some 150,000 new farmers. With Nang and Sandar overseeing the launch of new sesame products and services, expanding our digital capability and continuing the rollout of the Soil Health Diagnostic Service, FAS expects to serve 500,000 new customers by 2023.