I believe that by finding new ways of engaging with farmers we can achieve many of the development goals in some of the most complex situations and countries. I stand for different approaches to working with farmers, reconceptualising our ideas and perceptions and ultimately achieving greater sustainability in our food systems. My project takes the fragile new democracy of Myanmar, at a time of rapid agricultural modernization, and a time when the challenges of climate change are finally widely recognized, as a unique investigative site where new questions can be posed about how global agriculture might be practiced otherwise. The research draws on Myanmar as an exemplary site to explore significant and urgent questions about how to balance local and regional investment and development interests and community interests (i.e. local farmers and communities) with growing sufficient food in a manner that regenerates and replenishes the soil, the planet and its climate - how to avoid the repetition of old stories of clashes of east and west, of industry and farmers, to ensure there is a new conversation about how to create sustainable livelihoods in a time of anthropogenic climate change. Currently, there is very little research about how the majority of the population, farmers, are getting by in a time of significant economic, social and environmental transformation. The Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (MSDP) launched last February 2018 marks a new direction for the country following the election of the first democratic government in 2016. The plan seeks to achieve genuine, inclusive and transformational economic growth by aligning MSDP action plans with global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets. In the last 5 years, international development aid has more than doubled in Myanmar, leading to what some refer to as ‘the development darling of Asia’. This trend will continue to accelerate as the government relies on international development funding and industry interventions to achieve the MSDP. Agriculture and food security is the largest activity in Myanmar funded by international development, and farming in Myanmar is therefore also the target of significant interventions by the agriculture industry. Currently, there is very little research about how the majority of the population, farmers, are getting by in a time of significant economic, social and environmental transformation. Development interventions are thus being defined and driven in a vacuum of evidence about rural Myanmar and farming communities A significant component of the project will be a commitment to creating open data which would be available both to local farmers and stakeholders as well as to the international community. Through the use of mixed methods, the aim is to document changes in ‘the three pillars of sustainability’, economic, social and environmental change, as a result of changing international development interventions. This project draws on my previous experience working in the area as an international development consultant.
Using rigorous and ethnically-appropriate creative and participatory methods (including a commitment to ‘fair trade’, creating an archive of open data to be available to local and global communities), I will elicit the situated knowledges and practices of local farmers, bringing these into careful dialogue with other local, national and international actors and stakeholders now intervening in Myanmar. My work refuses an extractive approach where data would be generated but taken away from local communities. Rather I have an upstream approach, where communities will be involved in defining and shaping the research, including data access. In line with recent moves towards open data, I am committed to working with the community to create a local archive of material on everyday agricultural livelihoods (this may be a local physical archive/museum), while also exploring the potential to share data digitally through creating an online archive using an open source platform such as Omeka. I am committed to making sure the data is Free, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR) and am dedicated to engaging with local farmers to explore sharing the research, including the sharing of digital skills to enable them to control access to the archive.
As part of my Ph.D. project at The University of Edinburgh, I am trying to raise funds to achieve my ambitious plan. I work and study part-time and while this has worked for me during the first year, the way I finance my studies will need to change. Starting next October I plan to go on the field and do an ethnographic study of my project participants. I will be traveling to Myanmar to live amongst an indigenous farming community in Southern Shan State, for 10 months, learning about a new contextualized community that is rapidly transforming. My interest in food studies is relatively new, however, my tight relationship with food dates back to my early years. I was born in a family of cooking chefs or "witches, as part of my matriarchal line (at least 4 generations back in my lineage). Experiences around the table, behind the bar, growing and producing our food and building relationships and cultivating the existing ones were always made through food. However, at the age of 20, I left home to work and study abroad, often living in big cities. At the age of 24, I received a grant from the regional government of my hometown and that's how my international development career started, first in Washington DC and then in Myanmar. As part of this opportunity, I worked and lived in Haiti and Myanmar, where I was able to live with farming communities again. All these experiences have shaped me in ways I can't explain here and have given me an understanding of the vast differences that exist in how farmers see and understand life.
The funds I intend to raise here will be used to cover a translator to live with me as I don't speak the local dialogue as well as the implementation of the archive, including training of the local community on how to manage it. My commitment to this project is firm and I intend to complete the planned outcomes by the end of 2021. As a donor of this project at its early stages, you will be able to learn about a new approach to doing participatory research and development while following the progress and stories from the field and the farmers from my webpage and the final archive. This approach to of working with indigenous peoples knowledge is quite uncommon and only emerging, and the best practice so far has been the project Mukurtu, with the Warumungu Aboriginal community of Australia, and used by the Smithsonian Institution. You can see more information about this project in the following link: http://www.mukurtuarchive.org/about
Lastly, you can find more information about me, my previous work and this project on my webpage. For any questions please feel free to reach me.
Thanks for your time,