– building sustainable livelihoods while protecting a unique ecosystem
‘We Love Inle Lake’, our 3-year, youth-led project in Myanmar, which employed a holistic, participatory approach towards some of the conservation issues of the Inle Lake area and the livelihood needs of its local communities, has just reached its completion.
The project’s achievements are impressive: 86 young people completed eco-farming and eco-social enterprise training courses, and after sharing what they had learned with their communities, 970 households in 50 villages began practicing eco-farming. 26 community self-reliance and natural resource management projects are up and running, including an eco-café and a community forest. Moreover, thanks to 11 new Green Youth Groups and the strengthening of 9 existing groups, around 830 youth are now actively caring for the environment in the Inle watershed.
To celebrate the project’s success, we’d like you to meet Soung Hnin Phyu and Ma Sandar Win, two young participants, to give you a glimpse into how their lives have been transformed.
Meet Soung Hnin Phyu from Konhwa village
Soung Hnin Phyu took part in a 3-month eco-farming course, organised by our partners, the Kalyana Mitta Foundation (KMF), together with 29 other young people.
I have seven family members and am an eco-farming alumni. It’s not easy for a young girl like me to be out of her village for 3 months – many people think that a girl should stay home and help her parents. It seemed I went against the common tradition. I was away from my family not because I wanted to learn something for the sake of myself but for all my community members. I gained a lot of knowledge and skills from the training, and want to put some of that knowledge into practice. Due to the inferiority of women in the community – women are thought to be subordinate to men – it’s a huge challenge for me to practice what I have learned so far.
Sharing the knowledge
…The eco-farming course taught me about being a good leader, community organizer, and self-reliant person. Such skills and knowledge motivated me to become a young farmer who does what I can to lead and educate my people. Since the training, I have practiced vermiculture (the use of worms to produce compost), shampoo making, and bokashi composting (a composting method that doesn’t require the use of chemicals). My relatives and friends are very appreciative. They are amazed that a young girl like me can do something that no woman has ever done before in my village, by making use of local resources available in the community.
It takes time for a girl to share her knowledge, skills and education with men. The easiest step to convincing them of the potential of eco-farming is to start with the agro-nursery. I have grown coffee, avocado, and fruit tree seedlings. Until now, most villagers have depended on imported seedlings, and money has drained out of the community as a result. I want money to be circulated within my community to create more sustainable, small-scale economic circles and friendship. The nursery allows others to come and learn how to begin self-sufficient agro-plantation. Moreover, we promote local products which are genuine and real for the buyers.
In order to win trust from community members it is helpful to start with simple small-scale activities. Due to my humility and patience, some of my friends and relatives approached me for eco-farming knowledge, techniques and skills. I’m very proud of myself for being able to do something that I’m interested in. Local resource utilisation is the most effective means of mobilising community members to become more aware of the potential of local products.
Another change story took place in the Eastern Pekhon Lake area, where several eco-farming alumni live. Sin Phyu village is one of the project’s target villages in Pekhon Township. The farmers there have used chemicals and pesticides for some decades. However, after one eco-farming alumni conducted an eco-farming extension training in the village, the local youth formed a group called “Organic Lovers”, with the aim of changing the knowledge, attitudes, and farming practices of the villagers. It is a huge challenge, but the group’s drive to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of eco-farming and self-reliance activities is impressive.
Meet Ma Sandar Win
Ma Sandar Win leads the Organic Lovers group.
Most of our members are youth who share the same ideas, spirit and goals. Our objectives are:
- to help each other produce chemical free products;
- to disseminate organic knowledge and practices to villagers who are heavily dependent on chemicals that have a huge impact on agriculture and the younger generation; and
- to exchange personal knowledge and skills to broaden our influence on the wider community.
We want the younger generation to be freed from the slavery of chemical influences. To strengthen our financial muscle, we hold monthly meetings to discuss what should be done. We collect a one-off admission fee from each member in addition to a monthly contribution to allow us to run a micro-credit scheme, with ground rules and criteria for borrowing money at a reasonable interest rate. This system creates support for members to sustain greater income generation, from both small scale agricultural and local livestock production.
As change makers working to encourage village farmers to shift from being heavy chemical users to organic lovers, we set up a demonstration organic rice paddy so that they can study and practice chemical-free rice production. Each group member is also trying their best to cultivate organic home-gardens to reduce their families’ chemical crop consumption. We designed t-shirts to spread the message of the group and its mission, and we believe we can persuade our villagers to love and practice what we’re doing so far.
To be able to stand strongly as a group and extend our vision and mission, we’ve set up small-scale micro-credit programme for our members without any outside financial support, because each one of us understands that self-reliance lasts longer and produces a greater sense of ownership… Due to our hard work, each one of us understands that collective efforts have tremendous impact… We are young and full of energy to realise our dream, as Organic Lovers, to spread the wings of organic production and healthy consumption higher and higher in the blue skies, so that people can look up and be inspired by our work and mission.
Our fellow villagers have come to notice our work and practices. We’re starting to inspire community people with the work that we are doing. Unity, common interest and new explorations have motivated us to turn upside down the stereotype of the impossible – organic rice paddy farming and youth-led micro-credit saving and low-interest borrowing in the village of Sin Phyu. As the saying goes, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.’
Read more about the aims and outcomes of our ‘We Love Inle Lake’ project here.