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Luca Nichetti, Nyi Nyi Lwin, Thet Lwin Oo & Soe Naing Htay
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In November 2019, a number of us from the Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID) implemented a project introduced by the Resilient Mountain Solutions (RMS) Initiative, ICIMOD, piloting three integrated home gardens in Loi Mon, Thu Kha Loi Di, and Hta Hsam villages of Hsihseng Township in Southern Shan State, Myanmar.
Home gardening is a common practice in the project area. The Pa-O and Taung-Yoe ethnic groups have long been cultivating horticultural crops for subsistence, and for this they have relied solely on rainfall. This traditional method allows them to produce vegetables for only part of the rainy season and the beginning of winter (July to January). For the rest of the year, they cannot grow food in their backyards.
After a thorough participatory analysis of the villages, ICIMOD’s interdisciplinary team and MIID staff found a way to address this problem. We theorized that during the rainy season (mid-May to late October), since the area gets high rainfall (about 1,000 mm), with the right infrastructure in place, people would be able to collect enough water to grow vegetables all year round.
The pilot project mobilized local people in the three villages to build rainwater storage systems. They used locally available materials such as bamboo and spare wood. For demonstration purposes, we placed these storage systems in three different home gardens with an average area of 0.5 acres each. The construction of these systems took the form of collective training, where we invited community members (women and men) to collaborate and learn. They have also built a small pond for collecting household wastewater. This will increase water supply to the vegetable garden while saving water required for household needs.
We used proven methods to improve the design of the cultivation plot. One such method involves placing a composting bin fashioned out of a bamboo trellis panel in the centre of the garden. The families grow chilli plants along the perimeter of the plot to repel pests. They use natural pesticides – including a mixture of ginger, garlic, and chilli and another of soap and tobacco. The use of Bordeaux mixture has also helped control fungal disease.
Both the men and women of the three households are equally involved in managing the home gardens. This has increased their yield, reduced food expenses, and allowed them to eat nutritious homegrown produce. They sell the surplus in the local market, generating an extra income of nearly MMK 14,000-22,000 (USD 10-15) a month. They also share the vegetables with their neighbours. This helps foster community bonds and has sparked people’s interest in year-round homestead cultivation.
Daw Ma Aung, along with her husband and four children, takes care of the pilot home garden in Thu Kha Loi Di. The water storage tank has enabled her to grow vegetables throughout the growing season. “We don’t need to buy vegetables anymore,” she says. “In fact we make some extra income selling our harvest in the village market. We earn even better when we sell our produce in small packages or sell chilli powder made from sun-dried chillis.” She uses the extra income to buy medicines for the family, seeds and agricultural inputs, and to make donations to the local monastery. The home garden has also released her from the burden of buying dinner on her way back from the fields. “Other family members who stay home can easily pick vegetables from the backyard and prepare dinner for everybody.”
In the coming months, we plan to build 150 more low-cost water-storage systems in six villages integrating water saving practices such as mulching. Our focus will be on women and marginalized households. The RMS team will provide technical support and community members will contribute labour and basic materials. The home gardens will be linked to existing women savings groups through small investments in seeds and tools, financial literacy training, and expanded marketing and production. The initiative seeks to build community resilience by creating a viable livelihood option and empowering women to make decisions.
In early 2020 women-led civil society organizations from eastern Shan State and WWF Myanmar (Thanytharyi region) representatives visited the project area. The visitors were enthusiastic about the pilot project. They shared their experiences with the villagers and collected ideas for scaling out home garden solutions in their areas. They showed particular interest in the household-based rainwater collection tanks and the wastewater collection ponds. These two solutions can be easily replicated in both eastern Shan State and southern Myanmar, which get enough rainfall in the rainy season.
The home gardens have been a reliable source of food during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to restrictions on movement imposed during the pandemic, vegetable sellers who commute on motorcycles could not reach the villages, and villagers could not go to the local market to purchase food. The home gardens provided villagers with fresh vegetables in this time of crisis.
Luca Nichetti, Nyi Nyi Lwin, Thet Lwin Oo and Soe Naing Htay
Myanmar Institute for Integrated Development (MIID), Myanmar
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