Supporting Farmers and Displaced People in Conflict-affected Rakhine State, MyanmarPublished: Jul 24, 2019 Reading time: 6 minutes
Once an ancient capital of the Rakhine Kingdom, the town of Mrauk-U is filled with historic archaeological sites. Historic stupas made of red bricks and a royal moat covered in green algae, are both visible throughout the town. Despite this glorious time only a few hundred years ago, Mrauk-U residences now live in fear due to the on-going conflicts between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military (known as the Tatmadaw).
The Arakan Army (AA) is an ethnic armed group, advocating for the self-determination of the Rakhine State. Starting in 2015, AA had been clashing on-again, off-again with the Myanmar military. In late 2018, the clashes between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military escalated and caused the further displacement of over 30,000 people. The sound of gunshots is all too familiar for people and road transportation is often unsafe.
Cash For Work program for local workers while rehabilitating a huge pond for water storage
Dang Gyee pond is a ten-minute drive from People in Need’s (PIN) Mrauk-U office. The pond is in desperate need of repair so that villagers around the area can use it to store water when the monsoon arrives.
“My ancestors said that this pond was built by King Min Ba Gyi. There is also a white stupa built by him over there,” says U Maung Than Chay as he gestures to a structure further away. “This road [back to the village] is also said to be paved by King Min Ba Gyi, but I do not know much about the history.”
The administrator of Dang Gyee village, U Maung Than Chay could not remember when the last time was that the villagers actually used the pond for fresh water. Water stored in this pond has been only used for livestock. For the past few months, U Maung Than Chay had been liaising between villagers and PIN field officers to discuss the rehabilitation of the pond.
“If this pond was fixed and able to store fresh water, all of Mrauk-U would be able to use it, and we could even make a paddy field here in the summer,” he says.
A guaranteed daily income for workers
Ongoing conflict between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military has slowed development in Rakhine State, forcing more than 30,000 villagers to leave their homes and live elsewhere. Approximately 150 people fled their homes around the outskirts of Mrauk-U due to the ongoing fights and are currently living in a monastery in Dang Gyee village.
With the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), People in Need employees have been helping to fix the pond in Mrauk-U using the Cash for Work scheme. The Cash for Work program provides temporary employment in the public interest. In other words, it hires villagers to fix the pond so that they have regular income, acquire skills and contribute to the local economy with the money that they earn.
Maung Lu Pu, 30, who lives about an hour’s walk from the pond, was hired as one of the Cash for Work laborers. “I usually go fishing in the river for my main income. Some days you catch fish, and other days you don’t, so every day is not the same,” he says.
Due to the low number of fish in the river, Maung Lu Pu decided to join PIN’s Cash for Work program for about two weeks. “If I show up and work, I get paid. There is a guarantee,” he says. Just like Maung Lu Pu, 240 laborers have worked daily to fix Dang Gyee pond, which is more than 500,000 square feet large.
Amandine Nicolas, PIN’s Area Coordinator for Rakhine, explained that the Cash For Work program had provided job opportunities to displaced people during the project period.
“Men and women living near the pond, available to work with no other form of sustainable livelihood were eligible to join this Cash For Work program. Displaced people who were hosted in the nearby monastery also got the opportunity to earn an income by participating in the activity,” she said.
Essentially, it required all the workers to work every day in order to finish the project on time. There was a slight setback when a few workers from villages further away could not participate due to intensive fighting. Nevertheless, PIN staff and Cash For Work supervisors managed to step in and help fix the pond during the project period so that villagers around the area could later use it to store water during the monsoon season.
Agricultural support for local farmers to get ready for monsoon
Pu Rein Kone village is located thirty minutes away from Dang Gyee village. This is where Ko Maung Nge, 37, farms and acts as a representative for farmers from his village “We grow rice in our paddy field and vegetables, and then sell them after harvesting,” he says. “We have been using traditional ploughing methods and it has been hard for us to improve the growth and quality of the crops,” he continues.
Providing livelihood assistance is the core of PIN’s and FAO’s collaborative work in Central Rakhine. With support from the FAO, PIN has been able to distribute seeds, fertilizers and animal feed goods to approximately 1,000 farmers from 18 different villages in the Mrauk-U Township, including Ko Maung Nge, where Pu Rein Kone is from.
Tangible support and knowledge sharing about agricultural practices
In addition to the distribution of necessary farming tools, a series of “Good Agricultural Practices” trainings were provided by PIN with the support of Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MOALI) to recipient farmers.
“The trainings were very educational for us. With the new practices we learned, I hope our crops increase in quality and growth,” said Ko Maung Nge hopefully. When regular rain began in mid June, farmers from the Mrauk-U Township started preparing land and growing the seeds.
As a result of the conflict, civilians struggle to maintain a sustainable livelihood. Thanks to the FAO’s support and collaboration from the Department of Agriculture and Archaeology, PIN was able to successfully complete the repairs on the pond. Having a place to store rainwater will drastically ease the lives of villagers and farmers from Mrauk-U Township this monsoon season.
Child protection and nutrition
In addition to the Cash for Work scheme, PIN has also broadened its child protection intervention in Central Rakhine. We complement our child protection work with food and nutrition security, and have already targeted more than 4,000 households in the Minbya and Mrauk-U Townships. PIN’s integrated nutrition program is designed to address malnutrition in order to reinforce community-based mechanisms and contribute to tackling the problem of limited food diversity, inadequate access to health services, full sanitation, and weak caring practices.
At the moment, PIN stands in the forefront of delivering humanitarian assistance to people recently displaced by the on-going armed conflict between the Myanmar Armed Forces and the Arakan Army in Central and Northern Rakhine State. We lead a consortium of three international and five local organizations funded by the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund. The consortium delivers multi-sectoral assistance in WASH, Protection, Education, Shelter and Nutrition.