Raising Buffalo, Growing Wealth – The Church of the Province of Myanmar

Nam lives in the remote village of Saw Mah in Burma/Myanmar. A widow and mother of three, she has spent many years struggling to support her family. Like most others in the region, Nam survives by harvesting rice, which she sells at the local market and also uses to feed her family. 

Before participating in a community buffalo bank run by the Church of the Province of Myanmar (CPM) with support from Episcopal Relief & Development, Nam worked her land by hand. She was able to harvest only 130 baskets of rice each year, 80 of which she had to use for rent or else face losing the family’s land. This left Nam with only 50 baskets of rice for eating and selling. At times, two of her children had to work as day laborers to supplement the household income.

“In this region, the struggle of small-scale farmers to support their families is worsened by climate change,” said Nagulan Nesiah, Program Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development. “As the rainy seasons become shorter and less regular, people are being forced to spend extended periods of time as migrant workers in towns and cities.

“This is especially true for families like Nam’s, which are already made vulnerable by the loss of a parent and the consequent need for extra income,” continued Nesiah. “The unfortunate result is that the pattern of families separating to work in different places is destroying the social fabric that binds these traditional communities together.”

Despite challenges created by climate change, one of the goals of the partnership with CPM is to help local farmers increase production. Nam has been able to drastically increase her harvest by participating in the buffalo bank.

Through the project, Nam rents two buffalo, for which she pays 50 baskets of rice annually for four years. At the end of that time, she will own the two buffalo. By using the animals to work the land, Nam has doubled her yearly harvest for a total of 260 baskets a year. After paying rental fees for both the land and the buffalo, she still has more than 130 baskets of rice to sell for profit and to feed her family.

As part of the program’s conditions, Nam will give two of her animals’ offspring back to CPM. Any other young buffalo are hers to keep. In addition to using her growing herd of livestock to work the land, she can also sell buffalo to others.

“The self-sustaining nature of this buffalo bank is what makes the program unique,” said Nesiah. “After participants gift two animals back to CPM, those buffalo are then rented out to another program participant. This virtuous cycle of giving back enables the entire community to lift itself out of poverty.”

In addition to the buffalo bank, the Church in Myanmar operates a variety of community development projects throughout the country. Residents participating in a goat bank breed animals to sell for meat. Members of a community cow bank make dairy products to sell at the market and also use cattle to work their land. CPM also offers programming to teach sustainable farming techniques and works with women’s groups to provide micro-credit loans, helping members start and sustain small businesses.

“Nam’s story is a wonderful example of how something as simple as giving a family two buffalo can make a huge difference in their lives,” Nesiah said. “Through the work of the Church in Myanmar and Episcopal Relief & Development, Nam and others like her are being given the support they need to be able to care for their families.”