Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Myanmar Learning Alliance: A year of lessons and progress

T wo village-level Learning Alliances  (LA), facilitated by IRRI in Myanmar, discussed progress at its current learning cycle, and revisited previous cycles to track how the Alliance has learned and  changed.

Varieties, quality improvement, and markets: Maubin Learning Alliance

The Maubin LA started in December 2013 initially to learn about improving quality and new  varieties linked with the project’s participatory varietal selection (PVS). One year after, at its 4th LA meeting held in Maubin township, the Alliance saw changes in the topics being shared and the activities implemented.

Learning Alliance members tested the IRRI lightweight thresher to speed up
postharvest operation and deter postharvest losses.
In previous learning cycles, the Alliance explored which varieties and quality would be acceptable in markets that provide premium price for quality (see RIPPLE Vol. 9, Number 1, January-June 2014 issue). They also explored possible seed sources. As a result, some farmers bought seeds at the Hmawbi Seed Farm. They chose one variety from the PVS (Sin Htwe Latt), and another variety that has a good selling price in Yangon wholesale markets. The varieties were grown over the monsoon season, where rice postharvest operations could be delayed because farmers need to establish pulses for summer crop. For this meeting, participants assessed Sin Htwe Latt based on management, yield, and marketability. The farmers who planted it also noted its short-duration trait, hence, allowing them to plant pulses on time. Farmers also had ample time for rice postharvest operations. Linking this with improved rice quality and higher price, some farmers were interested to see whether good quality sold at the right time would indeed provide better profits. To support this interest, a 1-ton capacity mobile mechanical dryer was set-up in Nga Gyi Gayat village. At the time of the meeting, one farmer had tried the dryer. He will also try to store and sell when the price is higher. Another option to improve quality was the use of a portable lightweight thresher. This can allow farmers to thresh immediately in the field after harvest rather than piling the cut crop in the field for weeks  before threshing. Postharvest specialists Christopher Cabardo, Yan Lin Aung, and Myo Aung Kyaw demonstrated how this can help reduce postharvest losses. LA members also provided feedback on how to improve the equipment.

Dryers, quality rice, and markets:Bogale Learning Alliance

In December 2013, Learning Alliance members in Bogale wanted to learn more about paddy drying. To support this, a dryer was established in Kyee Chaung village for farmers in eight neighboring villages, including Kyee Chaung. In its 5th LA meeting in Bogale Township, LA members revisited the area to see the progress made in the past year and from the current learning cycle. Members previously shared that the market visit raised awareness on rice paddy quality sold in export and wholesale markets, and the different trading links that operate in their area.
Members visited wholesale and export markets in Yangon to learn about
rice prices depending on quality

They also learned about the market performance of Bogale-produced rice in terms of purity and eating quality. They also realized how paddy quality affects milled rice quality. Taking off from these, some farmers tried mechanical drying using the IRRI flatbed dryer,then storing hermetically at the Professionnels du developpement solidaire (GRET) communal storage for 3 months. After which, they sell in bulk, at US$17/ton, in Bogale and Moulamyinegyun, and realized the benefits of selling good quality paddy in bulk. GRET is a NGO partner. In the next harvest season, some farmer members want to use a lightweight thresher, dry mechanically, store in the communal storage, and sell to a Yangon wholesale trader. They also discussed other payment schemes to support the use of dryers by farmers who may not have cash available for drying fees at harvest time. They would also like to raise more awareness about drying and encourage more farmers to sell in bulk. Expanding the learning agenda “The Learning Alliance concept applied at the village level is a powerful tool to connect different value chain actors and empower farmers by linking them to alternative markets. It (village-level LAs) can serve as a model for other villages in Myanmar,” says Martin Gummert, IRRI scientist of the Postharvest Unit and lead facilitator of the Learning Alliance. The topics identified by members for the next learning cycle include: a message design workshop on best practices in  ostharvest, documented comparisons on costs and effectiveness of the practices from drying to selling, better integration with activities of NGO partners (e.g., credit schemes), other drying options (e.g., solar bubble dryer), and technologies that will help the minority of farmers who do not fit the ecological conditions common in their village.

LA members conduct small group learning trials based on their topic of interest. The lessons are shared with others, with the idea of expanding the reach of the projects by exploring relevant topics through participatory activities that involve different stakeholders.

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