Stories of Change

Daw Cho Mar Win with some of her chili harvests.

Two sisters in Myanmar team up with CWS to earn 50% higher profits

“For us, we have no choice except for agriculture,” says Daw Cho Mar Win. She lives in Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady river delta. Despite being less than 60 miles from Yangon, families in the Ayeyarwady delta rely mostly on farming, fishing or hourly wage jobs on small construction projects.

“In our community, we must work harder during the winter and summer to save money for living expenses in the rainy season,” Daw Cho Mar Oo explains. The rainy season is June to September, when the river often floods and earning a living can be a challenge.

Daw Cho Mar Win, in particular, earns a living alongside her sister, Daw Cho Mar Oo. They proudly own three acres of land, where they grow chili peppers. They sell to wholesale exporters, who buy from small family farms like theirs and export the produce to China. Eventually, the sisters’ chilis end up in sauces or seasoning packets for instant noodles.

The sisters prepare their land in August. They plant chili pepper seedlings in September for harvesting four months later. A hired crew of about nine laborers help during the harvest period, which lasts about 20 days. One acre of land produces about 5,400 pounds of peppers which earn the sisters 400,000 Kyats ($219) net profit. In the past, they planted two acres of chilis and earned $438 per year.

For a long time, the sisters have wanted to expand their chili production. They wanted to plant their third acre of land but didn’t have the savings to buy supplies. Thankfully, CWS was there to help them accomplish their goal.

CWS has worked with villages like Daw Cho Mar Win and Daw Cho Mar Oo’s for more than three years. A big part of our work together focuses on food security and livelihoods. One part of this work is to establish Village Savings and Loan Associations. These are community clubs where neighbors pool their money and borrowed from the group funds at a low interest rate. Each of the 15 members of the sisters’ group contributes 2,000 Kyat ($1.10) per month. Members can borrow loans of 150,000 Kyats ($82) and pay it back over three months at a 5% interest rate. By comparison, private moneylenders in the area often charge interest rates of 10% or more.

Daw Cho Mar Win used one of these loans to buy the supplies she and her sister needed to plant a third acre of chilis. “The VSLA program is very effective for people like us who can’t save big amounts of ash and can’t borrow from lenders who charge high rates,” Daw Cho Mar Win says.

After expanding to three acres of chili pepper fields, the sisters earned a total 1,200,000 Kyats ($658) net profit. With one loan, they were able to increase their profits by 50%!