A wide grin spreads across U Myo Zaw’s long, lively face as he eyes his new watering cans and vegetable seeds. The relatively simple supplies will help him cultivate his own small plot of land, a tremendous symbol of personal progress for him.
Nearly four years after Cyclone Nargis devastated villages throughout the country, U Myo Zaw, 29, is still homeless. He sleeps in a makeshift open air shack near the jetty in his village of Gone Hnyin Tan village, part of Laputta Township where an estimated 80,000 of the 350,000 residents died in the storm — including U Myo Zaw’s wife.
“Now my seven-year-old daughter is staying with my cousin. I have to work 24 hours a day as the security guard and local messenger between villages making 2,000 Kyat ($3) a day, and I don’t have enough money to send her to school as the costs are too high,” he said.
U Myo Zaw is one of 420 members of Mercy Corps’ Village Vegetable Groups (VVG) in Laputta Township, where agriculture represents the vast majority of the local economy. As part of Mercy Corps’ work to revitalize farming livelihoods on both large and small scales, villagers who have little access to resources are provided with cash grants of approximately 30,000 Kyat ($40) to purchase seeds like pole bean, eggplant, cucumber, chilli, radish and sweet potato, as well as additional supplies like watering cans and fertilizers.
Mercy Corps surveyed local markets to find out which vegetables were available and would be in demand; the VVG members use the information to decide which seeds will be most valuable to them. Instead of providing them with the supplies themselves, cash grants allow VVG members to develop their own business relationships with vendors for the longterm.
Mercy Corps also trains VVG members in small-scale vegetable production to increase their yields, teaching them about fertilizer, staking, pruning, water management, and pest and disease control. The 10 to 20 square meter plots — which villagers usually borrow from land owners during non-peak times — are intended to produce vegetables for both home and trade, providing families with nutritional food and an income-generating entry into local markets — and hope for a self-sufficient future.
“For the next three months I will borrow some land from the village leader that I can use for free, and depending on the success of the vegetables, I hope to invest in more livelihood supplies, like fishing nets,” said U Myo Zaw. “In the future I hope to build a house for me and my daughter and send her to school. I’m so happy to have the chance to earn for my family."