January 2015
For What It's Worth

A Man with Three Hats

  Robert Spencer making goat milk soap.

Working in the Golden Country of Myanmar

This was my second trip working with the Farmer to Farmer program in Myanmar. My services as an employee of Alabama Cooperative Extension System were voluntary to the Farmer to Farmer program, funded by U.S. Agency for International Development and implemented by Winrock International. Both of my visits have targeted working with small-scale livestock farmers who are trying to improve production, management and marketing practices while increasing farm revenues and quality of life for their families and communities. While most of these farmers are goat or sheep producers, some raise cattle or poultry; aquaculture is just beginning to catch on in Myanmar.

Myanmar was formerly known as Burma and is located in Southeast Asia surrounded by China, Thailand, India and Bangladesh. Myanmar is known for its thousands of Buddhist pagodas with their golden domes. Agriculture is its primary industry with the majority of the population living in rural areas. The good news: there is strong domestic demand for agriculture products and strong export opportunities to surrounding countries. Much of the country’s climate is semi-arid with an annual rainy season, making it challenging for consistent agriculture production. While there are some larger commercial- and government-supported farms, most of the farms are small-scale and limited-resource farmers who are eager to produce, improve practices and seek out markets that will pay better prices.

Robert Spencer showing goat with a sore mouth  

During my three weeks in Myanmar, I was responsible for farm visits, workshops, demonstrations and hands-on activities in Yenangyaung, Twintaw and Mandalay – three cities located across the central region of Myanmar. We spent about two days in each village. For my previous assignment in April 2014, I had two scopes of work (issues to address); this time I had three. They included Upgrading Small Ruminant Farm Operations, Goat Milk Soap Making and Livestock Business Management. The food is very good in Myanmar; it reminded me of a cross between Thai and Chinese. We ate very well everywhere we traveled.

The challenges these farmers face are similar to what we see in other countries: weak nutrition plans, lacking health and reproduction management, problems with gastro-intestinal parasites and limited profitability. Based on these findings, my farm topics addressed: reproduction, nutrition, quality selection, minerals and vitamins, body condition, selective deworming strategies and rotational grazing. Workshop presentations addressed: Animal Husbandry, All-Natural Meat Goat Production, Parturition and Kid Care, Nutrition, Enterprise Budgets, Vitamins and Minerals for Livestock, and Strategic Parasite Control.

I made multiple recommendations for short-term improvement and will receive feedback in six months whether they were implanted. They addressed culling undesirable animals, castrating terminal meat goats, creating better health and biosecurity management, developing advisory groups that include women, establishing recordkeeping training and documents, and helping farmers to better understand ideal market weights and price per kilogram.

As stated earlier, this was my second visit and I have received feedback from my initial visit. Based on my initial recommendations to previous villages, the farmers have begun providing supplemental minerals and feed for their goats and sheep and seeing improvements, and they better understand meat goat enterprise budgets and cost of production. Each one of these trips has been a very positive experience, and I look forward to future visits.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.