Thaung Si, a 2011 ERSB alumnus from the Lisu ethnic group, has always had a passion for organic agriculture. His fieldwork for the Burma School, in his community on Pyin Oo Lwin, led him to take on a project to empower and strengthen his people by building community-driven sustainable livelihood strategies. Thaung Si wanted to give local farmers and villagers alternatives to large scale commercial agricultural enterprises and methods, which are destructive to soil quality and the local environment and exploitative of local farmers.
Thaung Si’s project developed out of a needs assessment he conducted in several villages in his community area. Using interviews, surveying and other tools, he found that most farmers were struggling to make a living. They relied on expensive chemical fertilizers and seeds designed to boost yields but which had harmful effects on soil quality, requiring ever greater amounts to be purchased and used in order to maintain crop yields. Rather than multi-cropping to feed families as they have done in the past, traditional livelihoods have been surrendered to mono cash-cropping with farmers facing huge challenges to bring in enough profit to feed their families.
In a project supported under the Alumni Small Grants Program, Thaung Si organized a week long training involving sixty local villagers and farmers from four villages around his community – women and men – in sustainable agricultural methods. The program covered the theory and techniques around the use of organic fertilizer and seed banks, drawing on local resources, as well as an understanding of the harmful effects on environment and human health of practices such as wide-scale use of chemical fertilizers and mono-cropping. The training was followed by a full day ‘farmers’ forum’ to discuss the new techniques and use by the community. Villagers resolved to develop a community seed bank and to share knowledge and skills around the use of organic fertilizer. In designing and implementing his project, Thaung Si was able to gain the support and involvement of representatives of the local township agricultural department, who recognized the benefits for farmers and communities.
Thaung Si plans to build on this initial project with more work to strengthen and support his community and foster environmentally sound and sustainable lives for his people that embrace their connection to the land. He hopes to set up a model organic farm and school that will train young farmers in environmental awareness, land and earth rights, as well as organic farming techniques. He is currently undertaking a community leadership and organic farming program in Japan that will enable him to gather the skills and experience to make his dream happen.