One member of the Kyin farm in her field around the city of Bago, Southern Myanmar.
A micro-loan to increase the business of villagers
Text by Thomas Deflandre
We really had a good time with BRAC Nepal and during our discussion we the team we found out BRAC has an office in Myanmar as well. Myanmar being on our itinerary it's without hesitation we contacted the local team. In no time we got an appointment to meet the local team in their office in Yangon.
From the beginning the team was really welcoming, we had a lunch together and we started discussing the Aasha Mission and BRAC engagement in Myanmar.
We were really surprised and impressed to see the myriad of projects they're working on and especially on micro-finance projects. Perhaps, you're not familiar with micro-finance projects, let me give you some explanations. It's about giving access to traditional financial services such as savings accounts, loans, insurance, money transfers to customers who, usually, because of poverty don't have those options.
After those introductions we found out that it'll be great to go on the fields to meet their micro-finance customers. Another opportunity for Laura and I to immerse ourselves with the locals. Myanmar is a new country for us and not easy to read, I mean, it was difficult to have open discussions leading to deep conversations and therefore, with BRAC, it's a huge opportunity to learn. The next morning we left Yangon to the countryside with Chan who works for BRAC and who helps us for the visit and the translation.
Micro finance projects
After few hours driving in the countryside we stopped at a small house, isolated from the rest of the village but close to a river.
I could feel that we were in a rural environment, all our senses confirmed it : we would see rice drying in the middle of the road, smell frangipane flowers, hear the chickens around and I was fighting against flies.
Pusuv Ma, 27 years old welcomed us to her house where she lived with her parents, husband and one baby.
Pusuv has created her own business of Fisher net, a kind of conical fish trap made of bamboo leaves. She learned the construction thanks to her grandparents and for 15 years she does the best fisher nets of the region.
She sells one product for 2000 kyats (1.5$), she can make between 10 to 20 a day and distributors come to her directly to buy 300 pieces. She knows about micro-finance because she is the leader of the village organization and therefore she already helped friends to get loans.
She personally took a 600K Kyats loan with Brac to optimize resources and costs of her business. She could buy more bamboo when it's cheaper and then stock the nets for the raining season. Indeed, the rainy season is her peak business period and she even hired 2-3 workers to help during the rainy season.
BRAC is the only organization providing loans and especially with such a fast registration: she got the loan in less than 15 days.
Pusuv has ambition and would like to take another loan of 800K to continue growing the business with the goal, within 5 years, to become a distributor. she also wants to help her nephew to become a monk and therefore she would like to give him a donation.
The typical road side street food restaurant
Few minutes away we stopped to meet Moe Tar Than, 49 years old.
She manages a family restaurant since her 25. The restaurant is a typical road side street food you can find in Myanmar, nothing fancy here, the only focus is to provide good curries to customers. Moe shared with us the different curries she made for the day, each well conserved in a big clay jar. They try to cook everything with vegetables from the garden and fishes from the river, otherwise when needed, there is a local market where she can buy missing ingredients.
It's a very good business bringing revenue to the 5 family members. She employs 2 workers and give 40 to 50 meals a day.
As Pusuv, Moe is also part of the village organization and therefore she knows about micro-finance initiatives. She already took 3 loans, the first one in 2015. Here too, the benefit is to grow the business and buy main resources in large volume.
The last loan of 1300K kyats was used to buy wines for the whole year and to contribute to the education of her son who's going to take over.
Being farmer in Myanmar
The last stop we made was more difficult to access, we had to take motorbikes in order to reach a farm at the end of a long, bumpy and dirty road. Once we arrived we were surprised to see the amount of people waiting for us. Actually, all farmers in the neighborhood came because they were curious to meet us.
We met Daw Mya Kyin, she is the owner of this big farm. The language barrier was again a struggle and the pressure was quite high due to all those farmers staring at us but Chan and the rest of the team helped us to interview Daw.
Daw isn't married and she leaves in the farm with her 3 siblings and nephew. The farm is a family legacy but I couldn't get the construction date.
The key productions are rice, beans and watermelons over 10 hectares of lands. Surprisingly, Daw explained us that the whole watermelon production goes to China and they are really strict on the quality. Sometimes half of a truck could be scrapped due to quality reasons. Another downside we discovered thanks to the discussion with Daw is that she's not allowed to buy the seeds she would like. We can't be 100% sure but it looks like our big western agro corporations are already impacting growth markets such as Myanmar...
Days are long for Daw: she starts at 6am and stops at 5pm. Here again the loan helped to develop the business and more precisely to hire workers.
Unfortunately for us the harvesting has been done few days ago and therefore there is no point to go to the fields. The only remaining piece of land to visit was a chili field. Curious about it, we all went there. The walk allowed to break the ice even further and to get closer to our hosts. We took a lot of selfies, learned about the different seasons and even try the chili directly from the bush. Yes we did!
A perfect moment for Laura to take pictures during the golden hour: when the sun goes down and the light gives better perspectives and colors to subjects.
Before leaving we've been invited to eat some green mango slices dressed with hot chili powder. Not the perfect snack for our french stomachs but it was a nice moment to share with everyone.
Even if we start to get used to those visits, each of them are different and inspiring!Today wasn't an exception, what an amazing team, they are so inspiring and their micro-finance projects make macro impacts.