An app to help Myanmar fish farmers
Climate change is taking its toll on the people and economy of Southeast Asia. In Myanmar, around 250,000 people earn their living in the aquaculture sector. However, with the Mekong region getting warmer, sea levels are rising and regional water resources are being affected. Aquaculture is already under threat due to floods, while droughts and low water levels are affecting water quality, increasing toxicity, and causing fish deaths.
AQUADAPT-Myanmar, hosted by WorldFish, is one of five partners of the IDRC-funded AQUADAPT-Mekong project. The project aims to improve the capacity of fish farmers in Myanmar to manage climate-related risks and help them adapt to climate change through the adoption of innovations. The challenge was to find a means of transferring knowledge to local aquaculture farmers. One solution was to leverage the prolific growth of Myanmar’s telecommunications sector. At the beginning of 2019, Myanmar had more than one mobile subscription for every person in the country (56.8 million subscriptions for a population of 54 million people), and more than 20 million social media users. Using a mobile application (app) was a logical choice for sharing information.
With this objective in mind, a Myanmar-based social enterprise called Greenovator was approached to develop a nationwide information-communication platform. The company’s keystone product, a free mobile app called Green Way, provides farmers with information about local weather, farm productivity, and income. With features like crop guidelines, publications, a question-and-answer section, and a farming record that users can personalize, Green Way delivers practical real-time support to farmers. Currently, there are more than 120,000 registered users of the application in 327 of Myanmar’s 355 townships, 20% of whom are women. It thus provides a network that AQUADAPT-Myanmar and other research-for-development projects can use to reach a large number of farmers cheaply and efficiently.
Greenovator developed a new aquaculture section using content provided by WorldFish and added it to the existing Green Way application. Information was tailored to address environmental issues affecting Myanmar’s aquaculture sector, with special reference to climate change. The app also supported the livelihoods of local farmers with information on where to buy inputs and where to market their fish.
Since the launch of the aquaculture section in June 2018, more than 2,420 registered fish farmers have used the application to access fish farming information. The app is also being used to report fish diseases to qualified staff at the Department of Fisheries, universities, the private sector, and WorldFish so that they are quickly diagnosed. So far, 30,000 people, fish farmers and other users (including technicians, input shops, and traders), have viewed the aquaculture and nutrition material this year.
To date, the biggest challenges emerging on this virtual extension platform relate to fish disease, drought, high temperatures (and low oxygen), flooded ponds, theft, feed quality, predation by birds, and market price variations. All these challenges generate questions that are posted on the Q&A section of the app. However, bottlenecks can occur when it comes to answering these questions. In many cases, more information is required. For example, experts may request a better photograph of a diseased fish or a description of the water quality situation before fish deaths occurred. In addition, the volume of questions is often so high that the response from experts is delayed. In some cases, when a certifiable disease is suspected, a rapid response team should visit the locality, but this comes at a cost that cannot be borne by the farmer.
These problems can be mitigated over time. The aim of the project is to establish a critical mass of farmers (estimated to be around 10,000) who are able to solve problems and answer questions themselves based on the experiences shared by the online community. The potential reach and impact of AQUADAPT-Myanmar’s information and communications technology is expected to grow, especially when coupled with the Facebook country page, Facebook fish farmers groups, and hands-on training programs for farmers.