BACKGROUND AND DETAILS
Myanmar’s smallholder farmers are experiencing intermittent ‘stay at home’ orders, curfews and travel restrictions since March that has disrupted agricultural markets and trade, farm labour, remittances, access to affordable inputs and farm finance. Crop prices are plummeting as exports to China slow and domestic markets are disrupted. The COVID-19 health and humanitarian crisis will pull many rural families further into extreme poverty and food insecurity over the next 12-18 months.
The next year will be a defining moment for Myanmar. To protect food production and build resilience, farmers need uninterrupted access to agronomy advice, technology and capital – services that Proximity Designs provide. We have a unique opportunity to impact the lives of millions of smallholder farmers and the long-term trajectory of the food supply system.
We have partnered with Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare on our digital public health campaigns for rural communities.
We’ve also shared with key policy-makers and the National COVID-19 Response Committee, the data we have collected on the impacts of the pandemic on rural households, food security, market access, crop prices and food supply chains.
We have approached the current challenges by:
1. Accelerating Access to Digital Farm Services
Over the past two years, our delivery channels have been undergoing a significant transition, from in-person to digital, as farmers have increased access and more familiarity with mobile technology. We introduced digital campaigns for our agronomy practices and our Facebook page/chatbot have quickly become a reliable source of information for farmers; 40,000+ new households have already adopted our income-boosting techniques through these channels.
With the unpredictability of COVID-19, and during a time of physical distancing and disrupted access to communities, we must fast-track our shift to digital. We plan to move all of our agronomy advisory services online, designed for varying levels of digital literacy. We will use a combination of digital channels – Facebook chatbot, video call, tutorial videos, IVR – to teach farmers techniques, diagnose problems and recommend treatments.
One of the most innovative areas will be tele-agronomy, which enables farmers and our agronomist to interact via video chat to scout fields, analyze challenges and provide solutions for pest and disease outbreaks. We plan to reach an estimated 60,000 new farm households (about 270,000 women, men and children) with our new, innovative digital agronomy services in the next year.
2. Rolling Out Public Health Campaigns for Rural Communities
We’ve partnered with Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, which is leading the government’s response to COVID-19, on digital public health behaviour campaigns tailored for rural communities.
We’ve provided farmers with simple, clear and actionable advice on how to protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19 – so they can carry out critical farming activities safely, ultimately securing the country’s food supply. The campaigns are translated into 11 ethnic languages, ensuring marginalized groups are reached.
In Myanmar, digital channels – particularly Facebook – are the primary source of information (and misinformation) about COVID-19. Accurate and easily applicable knowledge is crucial.
Our 13 pieces of public health communication have been watched to near-completion 12m times by a total of 3.1m rural people. We conservatively estimate that at least 650,000 farmers – likely more – have changed their behaviour as a result of our campaign. The real impact is probably higher: family and friends of farmers made up 42% of the viewers of the videos, and an average of 22% have passed the advice on to at least one farmer they know.
3. Supporting the Food Supply with Critical Data
Tailored national responses for rural, farming communities are needed to ensure the national food supply. Proximity is leveraging our rural networks and deep knowledge of rural communities to gather important information on how the pandemic is affecting farming households, food security, market access, crop prices and food supply chains.
We’ve shifted our impact research to conduct weekly (now bi-weekly) digital surveys covering 1,000+ farmers, supplemented by in-depth phone surveys. We share this information and advice with the Myanmar government’s National COVID-19 Response Committee.
Our food supply system monitoring efforts have the potential to indirectly impact the entire 65% of Myanmar’s workforce that is engaged in agricultural activities. By delivering timely information and recommendations to policymakers and other service providers, we can ensure adequate farm incomes for smallholder farmers and protect the supply of food at prices rural families can afford.