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By Robert Spencer, Urban Regional Extension SpecialistDSC02072.JPG

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 natural resources.

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 leaders. 

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.   

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Using Extension’s 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.

Overall, Spencer 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. 

Contact Robert Spencer at (256) 766-6223 for more information about this project.

 


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