The 2018 rainy season in Myanmar destroyed large tracts of rice fields in the central and southern regions of the country. In order to allow the farmers to have a timely harvest before spring the following year, Tzu Chi Taiwan distributed mung bean seeds to them in November 2018.
In February 2019, Tzu Chi volunteers returned again to carry out a 10-day rice seed distribution. They planned to give out 4,294 tons of rice seeds to nearly 50,000 farmers from over 500 villages across 4 provinces. This would enable the farmers to cultivate more than 80,000 hectares of farmland.
In July and August 2018, many areas in Myanmar were devastated by flooding due to torrential rains, which damaged large tracts of rice fields that were ready for harvesting. Thus, the Ministry of Agriculture of Myanmar sought assistance from Tzu Chi, which promptly dispatched a team of volunteers to assess the disaster situation.
During the disaster assessment, the volunteers discovered that many of the local farmers borrowed money to cultivate their fields. They were impoverished farmers who did not own the land and were thus not eligible to apply for low-interest government loans. Their only option was to borrow from private money lenders that charged very high interest rates.
These poor farmers, who had to rely on the earnings from their harvests to pay their debts, were not only unable to do so in the aftermath of the flood disaster, they even had to borrow rice from others to feed their families. As they had to borrow money and repay their debts regularly, they had no more funds left after the flood disaster to purchase rice seeds for cultivation.
After conducting two disaster assessments, Tzu Chi volunteers travelled to Myanmar in early November 2018, to distribute quality mung bean seeds, so that the affected farmers could harvest the beans before the rice fields were ready for ploughing in spring.
From 16th February to 25th February 2019, Tzu Chi volunteers from Taiwan, Malaysia and Myanmar went to the disaster area again to distribute rice seeds at a local Buddhist temple. In order to understand the current situation of the farmers, they also visited the villages to find out how the latter were doing.
As the mung beans had ripened and were ready to be harvested, the volunteers were greeted by the sight of lush green bean fields along the way, as well as the smiles of happy farmers who were enjoying bountiful harvests.
During the distribution of mung bean seeds in 2018, some of the local farmers who were also Tzu Chi volunteers shared that they had been saving a handful of rice every day to donate to others in need and how they managed to reap a good harvest despite not spraying any pesticides on their crops. They received a warm applause from the other farmers and Tzu Chi volunteers.
When the locals learned that they only had to save a handful of rice each day to help others in need, many of them responded enthusiastically to Tzu Chi’s “rice bank campaign” and brought home a “rice bank”. In addition, they also donated some mung beans to Tzu Chi to help the needy.
Daw Thein Ei, a farmer from Yangon Province, was so happy and touched to see Tzu Chi volunteers at the distribution site that she went forward and gave them a hug. She brought with her three big bags of rice and a small bag of mung beans, which she had saved together with her neighbours, to donate to Tzu Chi.
She shared that she spoke kind words to the insects in her field every day, “requesting” them to only eat the leaves and leave the fruits to her. Her family of ten, which spans three generations, all depend on farming for living. She did not expect that Tzu Chi volunteers would return to distribute rice seeds after giving them the bean seeds previously, so she was delighted to see them.
Everything starts from a single seed of determination.”
The family of Daw Tin Dhn was one of the many local farming families that was trapped in the endless cycle of borrowing money and paying debts. She said that the flood that struck last year had completely destroyed the crops. Fortunately, she received the bean seeds from Tzu Chi and was able to pay off her loan with the earnings from the harvest this time.
Tin Dhn also shared that she received a Jing Si Aphorism at the bean seed distribution event, and it said, “Everything starts from a single seed of determination.” She pasted the Aphorism in her home and read it every day, hoping that she, too, could help others in need someday. Hence, on this day, she and her daughter had also signed up to join the ranks of Tzu Chi volunteers, in the hope of serving the other villagers.
The locals were deeply moved to see Tzu Chi volunteers from near and far coming together to give them help. Among those serving as volunteers included officers from the Department of Agriculture, the village chief, teachers, and also some of the farmers who had been affected by the flood.
The Taiwan Representative based in Myanmar, Chang Chun-Fu also visited the distribution site. He expressed his thanks to Tzu Chi for its long-term contribution in Myanmar, and invited the farmers to support the “rice bank movement” to help fellow needy villagers.
Editor’s note: The origin of Tzu Chi's "rice bank" campagin
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis caused catastrophic destruction in Myanmar. More than 130,000 lives were lost or missing and millions were made homeless.The Junta restricted the entry of foreign aid groups, but Tzu Chi’s tireless efforts saw its disaster survey team gain access to the disaster areas. Subsequently, Tzu Chi distributed aid to more than 12,000 affected residents. In mid-June, the local government invited Tzu Chi to extend humanitarian aid and to assist in the rebuilding efforts.
The Foundation further provided rice seeds and a bag of fertilizer per acre of land to over 7,000 farmers. In the spirit of Tzu Chi’s “Bamboo Bank Era,” many of the farmers who received the seeds started the practice of saving a handful of rice every day to donate to others in need, thereby continuing the cycle of Great Love.