Dahlia is a young ethnic Wa woman from Northern Shan State. Vibrant and bubbly, she brightens any room she is in with her infectious laughter. As Dahlia grew up, she watched as many youth left Wa region to work along the Burma-China border as day laborers. With the majority of Wa people sustaining themselves through farming, there are few opportunities for them and low concern for education, since people’s primary concern is their day-to-day survival. Some of the villages in Wa region, are almost completely devoid of people aged 16-30, Dahlia says. After witnessing this phenomenon all her life, Dahlia decided that she wanted to improve the livelihood and create more opportunities for Wa people,so they won’t be forced to move out of the region.
She has spent several years working for the Wa Youth Center and came to study at the Burma school to enhance her understanding of environmental protection, since most of Wa people’s livelihood depends on the environment. During her needs assessment for this project, she witnessed the viscous cycle of chemicals fertilizer and Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seed use. Many farmers are lured into buying GMO seeds and chemical fertilizers by companies, the media and cheap prices. Every season, the prices increase and farmers become more and more dependant on the chemical fertilizer and GMO seeds; which are designed to grow better with chemical fertilizer and their crops do not produce their own seeds. The farmers often end up in debt as a result and face a greater struggle for survival as their land becomes increasingly infertile and their debts increasingly large. This often forces people to send their children to the border for work.
To address these problems, Dahlia has planned a project to train 16 farmers, from three different villages, in essential skills like seed saving, natural fertilizer and building nurseries. This will help those farmers increase their production of crops and stop their dependency on chemical fertilizer and GMO seeds. From that training, she will create peer-led groups from each village. These groups will be responsible for sharing their new knowledge with the rest of their village. They will focus special attention on the Hopake village peer-led group, assisting them in making a model nursery, while facilitating the other two groups to observe the process, so they may also build a one in their village. Dahlia’s long term goal is to build a farmer field school in northern Shan state, which will become a training center for farmers to come and increase their farming abilities.