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tv   Asia Insight  PBS  June 28, 2017 6:30pm-7:01pm PDT

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♪ after decades of military rule, 2016 saw myanmar make the transition to a civilian administration. around two-thirds of this southeast asian nation's 50 million residents farm the land.
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yet agriculture accounts for less than 30% of gdp. and farmers' annual average income of around $200 u.s. remains the lowest in southeast asia. one social enterprise is striving to improve the lifestyles of the rural poor. debbie is the group's co-founder. >> translator: the key to myanmar's development lies in developing its agriculture. what we really need is for farmers to be earning a steady income. that way their purchasing power can make a real contribution to the growth of the nation's economy. >> the focus of this enterprise is on developing effective, affordable agricultural tools.
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and for just $15, items like this pump for lifting ground water have been a blessing for farmers. >> translator: my income is up more than ten-fold. >> we follow a social enterprise, offering affordable tools to boost the income of myanmar's farmers. yangon is myanmar's largest city. the rise of democracy has brought economic growth. and the streets are abuzz with energy. not far from the city center is the headquarters of proximity designs, a social enterprise, providing support to farmers.
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of the organization's 700-plus staff, around 100 are based in yangon. the remainder are out in the field, posted in over 150 rural areas across myanmar. funded mainly by donations from businesses overseas, the body markets affordable farming equipment, also offering micro finance and leasing out farming tools. >> this year, i want to do, set up a rent. so the point is, you rent and you own. >> yeah, i think it's good. obviously, people can't come up with the cash. so we have to provide a different way. >> co-founder, debbie, was born in yangon, but her father's work
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in forestry in the u.n. saw her childhood in much of the united states and europe. husband, jim taylor, assists her as ceo. the two first met as university students in the u.s. after graduation, they joined an international ngo, working to counter poverty, and eventually their shared focus led them to marry. in 2004, they began supporting myanmar's farmers. the impetus came when harvard masters graduate debbie, at the time working for the aforementioned ngo in cambodia, received a request for help from the myanmar government. she sought permission from her employers to relocate with her husband to myanmar. >> translator: it was only when i came back to myanmar that i
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realized just how difficult life was for the farmers here in my country. they had no electricity and relied primarily on oxen for transport. it seemed like they were several centuries behind the rest of the world. >> debbie was particularly shocked by the lack of irrigation facilities in villages throughout the country. >> translator: in this picture, you can see a farmer, pumping water from a well by hand. it's very hard work. yet, it only draws up a minimal amount of water. this method uses can't leavers. you can only pump up a bucket full at a time. so it takes a long time to draw enough to water an entire field. it's arduous work. >> spending so long drawing water meant that farmers had little time for other tasks. such as boosting yields or
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dealing with floods and drought. debbie and jim set out to develop affordable irrigation equipment for the rural poor. the first item they came up with was a foot-powered water pump. designed with the help of an engineer debbie knew from her harvard days, it uses air pressure to pump up groundwater. in 2008, they founded proximity designs. with myanmar's agriculture long lagging behind its asian neighbors, this social enterprise works with farmers to promote sustainable development. >> translator: farmers need a lot of advice on how to escape
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poverty. at this organization, our responsibility is to clearly show them what they can do to create that chance for themselves. >> one key focus for the group is developing effective irrigation tools to improve water utilization. this tank is made of waterproof fabric, lightweight and portable. it takes one person to set up. unlike a stainless steel tank, it's impervious to rust. this pump operates on minimal power. in all, the enterprise has provided affordable agricultural tools to over 100,000 farmers. debbie herself still makes regular visits to the front line. she feels face-to-face contact
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with farmers is vital in order to provide effective support. two hours south of yangon by car, here in the delta of the yangon river, a tributary of the largest river, fertile land has created one of the country's top grain-producing areas. but farms in this village with 70 households and 500 residents still lack running water and adequate irrigation channels. debbie meets up with her area representatives, both local residents. this man was born in a nearby
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village. the enterprise actively recruits local people to represent individual areas. myo tum has been receiving support for four years. he and his wife have two children. he used to farm on rented land, but the group's micro financing service helped him to buy an acre of farmland for $74.
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he then took out another loan to buy a treadle pump for $36. it was myo tun's idea to buy the land, but he bought the pump on recommendation. they convinced him i would be able to irrigate his land more efficiently for a sustainable profit. before this purchase, he had it to draw water from this nearby well. to water his field twice a day, he had to draw 20 to 30 buckets and carry them back on a bamboo
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pole. thanks to the steady increase in yields that the pump has brought, he was able to pay back his $110 micro finance loan in
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just three years. >> translator: it's so rewarding to see the changes in farmers' lifestyles. >> affordable tools from this social enterprise are helping countless farmers to raise productivity. the team heads to another nearby village. inaccessible by car, it's a half-hour trek through the forest. thoung aye uses the tools to grow an edible herb. ten years ago he inherited his parents' farm along with a diesel water pump. but without the expertise
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required to properly water his plants, his crops failed. he contacted his local representative, who suggested a water storage tank. the idea was to collect groundwater brought up by the diesel pump. from the elevated tank, this water is used to drive a gravity-fed sprinkler system. the combined cost was just $59. >> translator: last year we didn't get much rain during the monsoon season. but my income is up more than ten fold. >> the drought resulted in widespread crop failure elsewhere that drove up the price of beetle leaves.
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it brought him good fortune. social enterprise proximity designs has a dedicated team working to develop and refine its products. here, they're examining individual parts in order to improve the treadle pump. even the slightest potential improvement in cost performance is immediately put into practice. the team has also come up with a refined version of the sprinkler system. for only $40, it can water almost 500 square meters. that's half the price of similar items imported from overseas. the team studied various existing products for clues on optimal performance and affordability.
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eventually, they produced their own tool to create openings in the hose for sprinkler heads. though the principle came from this inported item, they needed to reduce the size. >> translator: materials are expensive. so we needed to come up with a way to reduce costs while maintaining optimum performance. >> on the right is their first prototype. but narrowing the grip to save on materials led to another problem. >> translator: the narrow grip made it harder to get the leverage you needed to make the holes. it took a lot of effort to puncture the pipe. >> after several more prototypes, the team came up with a design that resembled a
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corkscrew. the t-shaped grip makes it easy for anyone to punch holes in the spring cler pipes. one key device is crucial to the team's development work. this 3d printer, a gift two years ago from a u.s. software firm. whereas once outsourcing of production meant it could take months to create aprototype, this 3d printer enables the same work to be completed in a matter of minutes. the new technology has brought great reductions in development time and cost, keeping the cost of products down, too. >> translator: similar, imported products retail for around 30
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cents. we got ours on the market for only a tenth of that. >> with its expansive delta, myanmar, in the south of the indie chinese peninsula was once one of asia's most fertile grain producers. but when british colonial rule began in 1885, agricultural development came to a stand still. following a period of japanese rule, in 1962, the post independence government was overthrown in a military coup. this brought economic sanctions and trade reis strixs from the west. denied access to modern fertilizers and efficient equipment, farmers were unable to achieve stable yields or improve the quality of their crops.
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mm-hm mm-hm mm- many had to sell their land. these workers can't afford to buy tractors or cultivators, even second-hand machinery can cost ten times their annual income.
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the new government has tried various measures, but none have brought widespread improvements in the lives of rural poor. >> translator: in the past, many had to grow designated items, but now they're free to choose crops that sell. however, many tenant farmers still have to struggle to get by. as do those working on small plots of >> four years ago, myo tun used the service to buy an acre of
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land and a treadle pump. on his own land, he now cultivates a variety of crops, keeping track of markets and shipping, he staggers his harvest to ensure a steady profit. roselle is an herb used in many myanmar dishes. they grow quickly and can be harvested swiftly as required. after repaying his loans to the social enterprise, he bought this bike. he supplements his farming income by running a taxi service, bringing in as much as $7 extra a day. he also uses the bike to deliver produce and transport his family. today he's taking his wife on a ten-minute ride to the local market.
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this journey would take at least an hour on foot. she uses some of the profit from the herbs to buy some sandals for their children. back at home, the girls, aged 5 and 9, rush excitedly to greet her. they can't wait to see what she has
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the couple switched to cash crops, meaning they can afford to meet all the needs of their growing children. but still, without electricity or even a generator, the family eats before little by little, this family is building a new life for itself.
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back at the headquarters of social enterprise proximity designs, a party is under way. >> existing staff, we want to welcome all of the new staff that have just finished three days. we want to sincerely welcome you to proximity. brand-new or just somebody categorized as new, y're full part of our staff from now on. [ laughter >> the new members of each department introduce themselves. most come from farming families. >> translator: i'm from a farming family. i hope to apply what i learn here to help farmers and support
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development in myanmar. >> by supporting farmers, all ten new staff are determined to pave the way for a brighter future. meanwhile, the product development team is working on a new irrigation system. it makes full use of the strong, abundant southeast asian sun light with solar panels, generating electricity to pump up ground awater. the team developed the pump two years ago. it runs reliably on minimal power. switching from oil generators to solar panels would eliminate fuel costs. but practical tests have shown performance to vary with sunlight conditions. the large panels have to be moved to account for cloud cover
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and the angle of nonetheless, the team is determined to create a smaller, high-quality solar panel for easier use. social enterprise co-founder, debbie, believes that for farmers to achieve a better way of life, they must constantly strive towards new goals.
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myo tum has clear hopes for the future. >> translator: i want to try growing guavas and mangos. fruits like that sell for high prices at market. in order to do that, i want to buy more and more land to farm on. i have a lot of dreams that i hope to realize. spurred on by farmers' growing
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optimism for the future, debbie and her staff strengthen their support. >> translator: it's so gratifying to see them working towards and achieving new goals. at this organization, we intend to keep on providing small-scale development solutions that will help farmers in myanmar to fulfill their dream. >> for many years, myanmar's farmers have led a hand-to-mouth existence. but thanks to this innovative social enterprise, seeds of hope are gradually taking root all across the country.
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. a very warm welcome to nhk "newsline." it's 9:00 a.m. in tokyo, i'm catherine kobayashi. police in hong kong have arrested pro democracy activists who staged a sit-in ahead of a visit from chinese president xi jinping. xi is expected to arrive in the city to mark 20 years of chinese rule. two dozen students sat at the foot of a statue given to hong kong by beijing when the territory was returned from britain in 1997. the monument overlooks the site of a flag-raising ceremony planned


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