Farmers Find Happy Listening in the Golden Land

A young farmer – in flip flops, short sleeves, with his face uncovered – is spraying his crops with insecticide. Suddenly, in the next field over, he sees another farmer covered from head-to-toe in protective gear, and realizes that he is exposing himself to dangerous chemicals. Inspired, he dons close-toed shoes, long sleeves, gloves, and a facemask: lesson learned. 

This Public Service Announcement (PSA), thought to be the first of its kind in Myanmar, has been aired multiple times a day for weeks across the country [reaching approximately 80 percent of the population]. In Myanmar, where agriculture is the main industry, information on safe and effective agricultural practices is valuable. It is also in increasingly high demand, as the young “farmer” in the PSA – Burmese journalist Phyo Lwin Aung – is discovering.

Phyo, who works for Internews partner, the Agriculture and Market Information Agency (AMIA), is one of a team of six journalists talking to farmers and agriculture experts to develop stories for Happy Agri in the Golden Land, a 25-minute agriculture news and market information show aired on local radio station Shwe FM. The show has recently increased production to feature stories on a new crop or issue every week, in addition to up-to-date market information, and a Q&A session with agricultural experts.

The radio show is part of a project to develop and circulate audio, video, print, and online content on farming practices, nutrition, and essential market information.

As Myanmar increasingly comes online, farmers combine traditional and new information sources to engage with global markets. The telecommunications industry is growing rapidly, especially since two multinational mobile phone companies, Telenor and Ooredoo, entered the market a year ago. Telecom company Ericsson’s June 2016 Mobility Report names Myanmar as the second fastest growing market for mobile technology, with more than five million new subscribers in the first quarter of this year. The proliferation of smartphones has also aided the popularization of social media – in particular, Facebook, which AMIA is using to connect with Happy Agri listeners. 

“Our page is very popular among [Burmese farmers]. They read it all the time and can’t wait to read more,” says Phyo, wearing a huge smile. He and the other Happy Agri contributors communicate with listeners via AMIA’s Facebook page, which has received over 16,000 likes. The page is also where listeners can pose questions for agriculture experts to answer on-air and off.  U Soe Thwin Oo Maung, who contributed to the episode on green gram (mung bean), reports that he received a number of phone calls and questions from green gram farmers from Mgway, Yangon and Sagaing regions after the program. 

Listeners have not been the only ones taking notice. For instance, the story “Beans Traders’ Misery” by Phyo on fluctuations in Myanmar’s bean market – one of the country’s principle crops – was published in the 7Day Daily, one of Myanmar’s top-selling newspapers. Phyo reported on the chaotic nature of pulses and beans markets, which are notoriously volatile as the demand depends on India and there is lack of transparent market information for growers; additionally, prices are reportedly manipulated by the market makers. The article painted a gloomy picture of mid-level beans traders who were facing heavy losses when the prices crashed suddenly. It also highlighted lack of a systematic market information system in Burma.

Happy Agri has also garnered interest from sponsors, according to San San Yin, Shwe’s Channel Manager. “Wisara Agriculture Inputs Company offered a sponsorship until the end of the year a week after the launch of Happy Agri in the Golden Land. It was [a] success… We’ve got audience interest in a very short time.”

Internews and AMIA’s project providing agricultural information is supported by Winrock International and USAID’s Value Chains for Rural Development project.