A partnership for food security in Myanmar’s Rakhine StatePublished: Oct 26, 2020 Reading time: 5 minutes
Since December 2018, the conflict between the Myanmar Armed Forces, also referred to as Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has been steadily escalating. This has resulted in the displacement of thousands of people, and has intensified the hardships faced by communities already suffering from marginalisation, systemic underdevelopment, and poverty.
People in Need (PIN) and its local partner organisation, Phyu Sin Saydanar Action Group (PSSAG), with funding from the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund (MHF), are seeking to improve the livelihoods and food security of the most vulnerable, conflict-affected populations of Northern Rakhine State. As part of this goal, a variety of activities focused on gardening, fish breeding, and construction of fuel-efficient cooking stoves were conducted in 20 villages in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships.
Improving food security and nutrition in households with children
250 households, primarily those including pregnant and lactating women and children under the age of two, received gardening kits consisting of seeds, tools, and fertiliser after being trained in good agricultural practices. “Apart from setting up or expanding their existing gardens using the kits provided, households also improved their understanding of healthy and nutritious diets, especially for children under two who are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition by participating in cooking demonstrations and training in infant and child feeding practices,” says Tereza Vavřínová, PIN’s Area Manager for Rakhine State.
Ma Khin Than Kyi, a 40-year-old Daingnet housewife from Nga Khin Dauk Village in Buthidaung Township, received a gardening kit and participated in agricultural trainings and cooking demonstrations conducted by PSSAG. With the tools and seeds she received, she now grows vegetables in her backyard with her three boys.
“I plant bitter gourd, water grass, roselle, spinach, long bean, and lady’s fingers in my garden. Sometimes I sell these vegetables to my neighbour in order to buy snacks for my boys. My boys help me water the garden sometimes. The vegetables help me cook nutritious food for my children and I do not even have to buy them from the market. It makes me happy,” says Ma Khin Than Kyi.
Fighting hunger with aquaculture
Because many of the most vulnerable populations, and children in particular, lack animal protein in their diets, PIN and PSSAG have supported the production of fish – a cheap yet powerful source of high-quality protein. PIN and PSSAG provided resource-poor farmers with essential inputs, such as construction materials, fish fingerlings, and fish feed to enable them to set up ponds for breeding fish.
Anda Dulla, a 60-year-old farmer from Tet Min Chaung Village in Buthidaung Township, says: “ I received a tarpaulin and some bamboo from PIN and PSSAG to help me prepare a pond that is 12 feet long by 12 feet wide. They also provided me with a starter package of around 150 fish fingerlings (tilapia and common carp), as well as packets of fish feed.”
With support from PIN and PSSAG, 22 earth ponds and 18 tarpaulin ponds in nine villages across Buthidaung and Maundgaw Townships were either set up or reconstructed by local farmers. Once the ponds were prepared, PSSAG distributed 9,300 fish fingerlings to 40 farmers.
Anda Dulla also shares his experience: “I had 20 years of experience with fishpond farming. I had earned money from fish farming in a big earthen pond in my old village. After I was displaced and moved to this new place, I only had a small parcel of land. That is why I built this tarpaulin pond for fish farming. However, a few fish fingerlings died two days after I received them. The inspector from PSSAG told me that it was possibly because of dirty and hot water. So I changed the water and fed them more. Now the fish are no longer dying, but I am still watching them carefully.”
Cooking faster with less firewood
Armed conflict can significantly impact even basic activities such as cooking. The ongoing violence in Rakhine State has prevented people from collecting firewood outside of their villages and in the mountains, making it increasingly more expensive. To support the affected communities, PIN and PSSAG conducted trainings for 250 people in 20 villages in Northern Rakhine State on how to make fuel-efficient cook stoves and fuel briquettes. “The fuel-efficient stoves use fuel briquettes, made of cow manure, paddy shell, and pieces of bamboo, which burn longer than regular firewood. Not only do participants learn how to use fuel-efficient cook stoves in their households, but some are now also making them and selling them to other villagers,” says Vavřínová.
Kaw Thiz Za, a housewife from Kan Zauk Village in Maungdaw Township, says: “This cook stove is very useful for us housewives who cook at home. Cooking now takes less time and requires less firewood. Before, I used a normal cook stove and spent 10 to 20 minutes just cooking rice, but now it takes only five minutes, leaving me extra time to do other household chores. Other housewives from my village also like these fuel-efficient cook stoves.”
Adjusting support to changing needs
This livelihood-focused project – funded by the MHF, managed by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and implemented by PIN and its local partner organisation PSSAG – was already under way when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Myanmar. With the health and safety of vulnerable communities being the priority, PIN and PSSAG quickly readjusted their programming to strengthen community capacity to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
PSSAG distributed hygiene kits and conducted COVID-19 awareness-raising sessions, while participants of sewing and tailoring trainings organised as part of the project produced more than 61,000 fabric face masks for distribution to those in need.
Kaw Thiz Za, a housewife from Kan Zauk Village in Maungdaw Township, is grateful for the support from PIN and PSSAG: “Our village is so poor compared to other villages in Maungdaw Township. We cannot buy basic items like face masks and hand washing materials, but PIN and PSSAG distributed the things we needed most, for which we are very thankful.”
“Despite the challenges posed by various public health restrictions, in close cooperation with our local partner, we were able to quickly redesign project activities to suit the new context. By doing this, we helped vulnerable households make a living during a time when opportunities to earn money are becoming ever more rare, yet ever more important,” says Vavřínová.