It is harvesting time in the fertile Ayeyarwady river basin, which means that the majority of able-bodied men and women in this village are busy in the paddy fields.
They have to act fast to harvest the grains before the sea level rises and floods the land. Depending on the demand, each worker can earn, on average, 50,000 Kyat ($41.80) per acre.
Farmers are excited about this year’s yield. In the village teashop, people are talking about the doubling of sticky rice price. It is not common for people in Myanmar to eat sticky rice and it is largely exported to neighboring countries, like China.
Farmers who have harvested their paddy fields claim this is the best year, a result of favorable weather conditions and better farming techniques and practices they’ve learned through NGOs who, with funding from the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), provide farm advisory services on how to increase yields and improve crop health.
The Ayeyarwady region is the rice bowl of Myanmar, but it is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Water drainage, salt intrusion and flood protection are major concerns.
In recent years, rising sea levels have intensified the encroachment of seawater, which increases soil salinity and decreases monsoon rice paddy yields. Growing sticky rice as a summer crop has helped rice farmers in the Ayeyarwady cope with this problem, as sticky rice plants are more resilient to salt intrusion. The ability to harvest two crops instead of one significantly increases local farmers’ income.
Khin Maung Oo, a 42-year-old farmer, is an advocate for sticky rice, which he started growing three years ago after learning about it from relatives and friends. The father of a four-year-old boy, he used to be a duck farmer with 200 ducks, but often got into trouble when his ducks ate and destroyed his neighbor’s paddy. Frustrated with this problem, he used his savings, money from the sale of his ducks and a loan from a private lender to buy three acres of farmland and rent another ten.
“My sticky rice summer crop can fetch 950,000 Kyat ($778) per 100 baskets, compared to 750,000 Kyat ($614) for the monsoon paddy crop,” said Khin Maung Oo. “I plan to scale up sticky rice planting to five acres of land from two acres to maximize my profits.”
One of the most successful farmers in the village, 62-year-old Khin Htwe says they have benefited enormously from the farming techniques and knowledge gained from the program of Proximity Designs, an NGO implementing programs in the Ayeyarwady region with support from LIFT.
One technique farmers have learned is the Salt Water Seed Selection technique. This method of soaking rice seeds in a salt water mixture and selecting those that sink to the bottom for sowing is simple and cost-free, resulting in healthy crops and a yield increase reportedly averaging 10 – 15%.
“The program has taught us how to sow rice seeds systematically at a specific width apart. Previously, we would just scatter the seeds,” says Khin Htwe. “We have also learned about the disadvantages of using chemical fertilizers, which speeds up growth but depletes the land in the long run.”
Khin Htwe’s first attempt at growing sticky rice four years ago failed after salt water intruded his farm. To learn how to farm sticky rice better, he travelled to other villages that succeeded in growing a summer crop and adopted the good practices he saw.
Khin Htwe, who owns 80 acres of farmland, understands the importance of knowledge and information exchange to increase the efficiency and sustainability of farmlands. He attributes his success to his eagerness to learn.
“Besides hard work, a farmer must be open to adopt new techniques,” he says.