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ECHO, INC.: Inspiring Seed Banks in Myanmar

The enriching and life-sustaining impact ECHO has on people’s lives reverberates throughout the world. The knowledge, training, and resources provided at just one workshop through ECHO Asia and its partners in one Southeast Asian nation are helping to improve the success of farmers across the region. In one particular instance, ECHO tools and training were implemented to sustain the lives of 300 orphans in a neighboring country. Youthful Myanmar farmer Saw Shiesho speaks with the poise and wisdom of someone twice his age. Interviewed at just 19 years old, his great enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge for his mission clearly shine through. He became a farmer at age 17 and works the land at Full Moon, an orphanage to the north of Yangon, one of the region’s larger cities. He starts his day at 6 a.m. and tends to the plants by hand, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting. In the evening he again waters the crops using a hose and system of connected pipes leading to a well. “In general, young people in Myanmar are not that interested in working in agriculture,” he laments. “But I am. I want to improve the way farming is done here. It is my mission.” Saw recognizes the benefit of improving both the quality and the quantity of the food and is very proud that they use organic fertilizers such as leaf compost, animal manure, and lime along with natural pesticides, such as chilies, ginger, and galangal, a spicy root plant. “Chemicals can have side effects and are not good for people,” he explained. The Full Moon farm has the primary purpose of feeding approximately 300 needy children living at the orphanage there. Good harvests producing extra crops are sold at the local market and provide income and revenue opportunities. Saw had the opportunity to attend a program presented by ECHO Asia in neighboring Thailand in the fall of 2019. He brought back and enthusiastically applied his new knowledge and skills to the farm at Full Moon. “ECHO taught us new methods to improve our farm and how to build a seed bank,” he said. “It will have 200 kinds of seeds we will use on the farm to grow crops.” The seed bank storage facility was constructed of bamboo and insulated with mud to reduce the impact of the local climate’s heat and humidity. “We should have air-conditioning, but we do not have the funds for that,” he explained. He said initially the farm is keeping and storing all the seeds it receives in their seed bank, but, they will be able to share them with others in the future and pass along the knowledge and skills they learned at the ECHO Asia Small Farm Resource Center. The orphanage is situated on a 70-acre farm in Phugyi Village in Hmawbi Township. The orphanage is part of the Lapyiwun Children Development Family (LCDF), which began caring for about 80 children affected by landslides and conflicts in the Mon State and Karen State regions of Myanmar in 1998. Two years later it moved to its current location. In 2002 LCDF was one of the first children’s homes in Yangon to receive government approval and registration. Full Moon was founded by U Ba Hla Tin Htoo, who developed the land for growing food and raising livestock to achieve self-sufficiency, and teach life skills to the orphaned children. A demonstration farm established later provides tourism opportunities for others to visit. Full Moon also implements programs in the orphaned children’s former villages and it works with them on projects to boost economic opportunities and create jobs. ECHO Asia’s relationship with Full Moon dates back prior to May 2017, when Full Moon staff attended a work-study trip to the ECHO Asia Seed Bank in Mae Ai, Thailand. Since then, ECHO Asia representatives have visited the farm and provided training, support and ongoing consultations. Three Full Moon staff members completed a one-week intensive internship at the ECHO Asia Small Farm Resource Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand and brought that training home to share with their colleagues. In working through our partners the ECHO Asia team has helped the people of Myanmar during some difficult years by providing encouragement, training, equipment, and resources such as seeds and cuttings for plant propagation. What began with one workshop held in Thailand has continued to bring needed knowledge and resources to Full Moon orphanage years later. The children there not only benefit from the increased harvest, but also the knowledge they can take with them into adulthood for continued success.

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