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Women's Empowerment

‘I feel like more than a female farmer’: Nang Hla Kwel on her journey to empowerment in Myanmar

Nang Hla Kwel is a 35-year-old rice farmer and mother from Wan Khon village, northern Shan state, in Myanmar. Her family own 22 acres of paddy fields, but her role as a farmer had traditionally been only as a support to her husband.This has changed thanks to Nang Hla Kwel’s participation in a Trócaire women’s empowerment programme, which has seen women like Nang Hla Kwel become more empowered economically and within their community.

Nang Hla Kwal in her paddy field in northernShan state during harvesting season.Photo Credit: Trócaire Nang Hla Kwal in her paddy field in northernShan state during harvesting season.Photo Credit: Trócaire

Nang Hla Kwel’s husband always led on the business side of the family rice farm in Wan Khon village. Nang Hla Kwel, who has a four-year-old daughter, had no technical knowledge of farming, and her main responsibility was to help with paddy planting and harvesting.

However, this all changed for Nang Hla Kwel thanks to Trócaire’s Irish Aid funded women’s empowerment initiative in Shan state which is making a difference in the lives of women like Nang Hla Kwel by empowering them to take the lead and learn new skills to build a more equal and sustainable future. When the series of trainings and seminars began, Nang Hla Kwel was intrigued to learn more about gender equality and how she could make a difference to her family’s future.

As it stood, Nang Hla Kwel’s family couldn’t meet their basic living needs through farming and this is what inspired her to join and get involved in different project activities such as the savings group, monthly meetings, training, events and forums.

But as a farmer, Nang Hla Kwel was especially interested in upskilling her knowledge in agriculture. Nang Hla Kwel was delighted to learn about natural fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and in particular the SRI’s system of rice intensification, a method of farming to increase the yield of rice…

She applied her new learnings to her family farm and shared them within her community.

It was through Trócaire’s training, implemented through local partner Network Activity Group (NAG), that Nang Hla Kwel was selected as Chairperson of the Village Development Committee (VDC) of Wan Khon village, something she never dreamed could happen.

“Women should not stay in supporting roles within the family. Women should get involved in community activities. After receiving training on gender, women’s leadership, and agricultural technologies, I now believe that I can lead the family business by applying the new agricultural skills which I learned from the project. At first, my husband did not agree with this, but he came around when I was elected as Chairperson of the VDC.”

Paddy seed production demonstration plot in Wan Khon village. Photo Credit: Trócaire Paddy seed production demonstration plot in Wan Khon village. Photo Credit: Trócaire

Throughout the following growing season, Nang Hla Kwel was selected to apply her newly learned skills in SRI farming for a collaborative project between the Department of Agriculture and Trócaire.

She tested the method on five of her acres of paddy fields. After harvesting, she produced an average of102 baskets of rice per acre, increasing the production yield by 42 baskets per acre. She earned the equivalent of €236 per acre –or €1,413 from 6 acres-making a substantial profit helping to take some of the financial pressure off the family.

‘This is the first big amount of money which I earned through farming. I can now show my husband, my father and my community how much more I can earn from the paddy fields by using the technologies provided by Trócaire’s project. I can buy a new motorcycle from this year’s profit and we can overcome financial hardship. I can now have more influence within my family and community.”

“My father and my husband appreciate my achievements and respect me more than ever. As Chairperson of VDC, I have to engage with other villages, I feel confident now.”

At first, other farmers in the community-made fun of her because these new farming systems were new to them. However, after the harvest, community farmers saw how the new agricultural technologies worked and respected her efforts in spite of her gender.

“I didn’t think that I could lead in farming activities, as it was always led by men. This year, I did it and my family supported me. Now they see my achievements and my husband and my father are supporting and encouraging me to join more training organised by the project and want me to share every single piece of knowledge acquired.”

Next year I can lead seven villages in the area to cultivate paddy fields with my instruction during the growing season. I would encourage women to lead faming by taking advantage of these new supports available to them instead of being just a supporter to the family business.”

“Women can borrow money to start a business from our saving groups and we have regular sharing and learning sessions in my village. This can help women to increase self-confidence and self-esteem.”

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