By Robert Spencer, Urban Regional Extension Specialist
From mid-April to May 2014, Urban Regional Extension
Specialist Robert Spencer spent three weeks in the Republic of the Union of
Myanmar in Southeast Asia, better known as Burma, learning about the small
ruminant industry as a volunteer with the Winrock International Farmer-to-Farmer
Program. The Farmer-to-Farmer Program is funded by the United States Agency for
International Development (USAID), the agency responsible for
administering aid to civilians in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe in
order “to end extreme poverty and to promote resilient, democratic societies
while advancing our security and prosperity.” Winrock International, much like
the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, is dedicated to empowering
disadvantaged populations, increasing economic opportunities, and sustaining
In an effort to reach disadvantaged farmers, Spencer focused
on nucleus goat farming practices in Myanmar, which included developing a procurement
system for goats and sheep producers and improving meat quality. In order to
achieve these goals, he was oriented to the
small ruminant industry in Myanmar, met with industry leaders, and made on-site
farm and market visits. He also worked with an in-country specialist to conduct
relevant trainings for farmer groups, to assess opportunities for improvement
in on-farm and industry operations, and to report back to hosts and industry
What Spencer soon discovered
during his visit was that goat producers in Myanmar and the US face similar challenges.
For example, producers in both countries hope for high market prices, experience
shortcomings with production quality, have relative concerns with production
costs, and acknowledge the need to improve operations. However, farmers in
Myanmar have specific advantages over their counterparts in the US, such as low
production costs that include labor, a strong year-round demand for goat and
sheep meat, export opportunities to China and Thailand, and an affordable cost
of living. Although $3-6 per day is the suggested minimum wage, a Myanmar
farmer can earn $2,600 per year raising goats in a profitable market with
little or no overhead costs. Yet, in spite of these advantages, there is still
room for improvement.
winning combination of educational lectures, hands-on training, group farm
visits, and post-event question and answer sessions, Spencer educated farmers
about all aspects of small ruminant production from breeding, herd health, and
meat quality control. He particularly focused on nutrition, including water and
how it correlates to animal quality and body-condition scoring when considering
animals for market.
trained 111 farmers and 20-plus professionals including 16 females and 2 youth,
and reported back to hosts at a formal meeting in Yangon. On his last full day,
he also participated in a major conference that received national TV coverage
with the potential to reach more than 20 million viewers.
As a result of these
efforts, 100 percent of the participants stated they learned more about small
ruminant management practices, particularly nutrition and how to determine the
ideal body condition of animals. Participants also indicated they would apply this
information to their daily operations and share what they learned with other
producers. In return, Spencer learned that Myanmar and US goat and sheep
producers face similar challenges, including the limited ability to influence buyer
and market prices for their products. Yet, these producers are dedicated to
what they do, rely on the help of family members to maintain their operations,
and are grateful to receive assistance from Extension subject matter experts.
“The goat industry within Myanmar has great potential for
expansion due to growing demand for a healthy meat product within country and
in export markets to China and Thailand,” said Spencer.
In addition to Winrock International, the Farmer-to-Farmer project partners included Hla Shwe and Brothers Meat Production
Enterprise and the Myanmar Livestock Federation with participants from the Pakokku
Township, the Chaung-U Township, and others in the Yangon region.
Spencer at (256) 766-6223 for
more information about this project.
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