Putting Down Roots A retailer in Myanmar builds his business to grow his family.

Three years ago, U Ko Ko Latt’s life looked different. He worked in the Taungtha township for Armo Agricultural Company, a major Burmese agro-chemical company. His wife worked for the same company, but she worked more than two hours away in Mandalay, which means they barely saw each other.

Ko Latt had a decent job, but he had bigger plans for himself and his future family. He started a small business on the side as an input and service provider (ISP) and set up a shop in the local Taungtha market. Back then he offered about 50 different items: a few brands of urea fertilizers, one brand of compound fertilizers, and a single case of pest management technology.

His stall was small and shadowy in the interior of the market — not the best place for attracting attention. In addition, it was located right next to a food stall with open pots of curries and stews waiting to absorb a waft of urea dust, a potential health hazard for any hungry patrons.

Ko Latt's first stall. Located off the main street and beside a food vendor, it wasn't the best or safest place to be selling fertilizer and other farm inputs.

With little support from the Department of Agriculture (DOA), Ko Latt did not have knowledge of or access to better technologies. Due to his small inventory, many of his customers would only stop by for one or two items before going to shop somewhere else, limiting his profits.

In 2016, Ko Latt was able to join IFDC’s Dry Zone Agro-Input and Farm Services (DZ) Project funded by the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust (LIFT) Fund. The project aims to increase the capacities of ISPs by forming public-private partnerships (PPPs) between farmers, DOA agents, and ISPs. By linking these actors, all parties will benefit from increased yields, knowledge, and sales while creating better access to new technologies like compound fertilizers, gypsum and other micronutrients, and quality seed.

The DZ project started helping Ko Latt develop partnerships with the DOA and different farmers in the area. Soon after joining, Ko Latt set up a groundnut demonstration plot. The plot demonstrated the effectiveness of compound fertilizers, gypsum use, and quality seed compared with farmer practices and technologies. Farmers began to see how improved inputs can increase yields and result in a better crop. Since then, Ko Latt has worked with IFDC and the DOA to participate in and conduct 17 farmer trainings (Ko Latt initiated five of those), two demonstration plots, and two farmer field days.

By comparing the results of the demonstration plot yields (of peanut) with and without using gypsum, farmers learned the advantages of using gypsum. The demand for gypsum grew significantly. Farmers also became aware that using their traditional seed varieties gave lower yields than the improved seed varieties recommended by DOA.

The farmer trainings, demo plots, and field days have increased Ko Latt’s customer base and created a demand for new products, which the DOA helped him secure. With more products to offer and an increasing clientele, he was able to move to a bigger shop with better visibility and display. Now he offers between 400 and 500 different products, including gypsum, a wider variety of fertilizer blends, safety equipment, and a range of pest management solutions. He also began selling high-quality seed — hybrid seed, green gram, cotton, and groundnut, along with vegetables.

Ko Latt has become a one-stop-shop for many of his customers. Since then, business has been booming.

“Soon after joining with IFDC, I was able to open up a bigger shop in a better location,” Ko Latt said. “Before, I earned only USD $2,000 annually for selling inputs. But last year my annual income increased to USD $20,000.”

Top Left: Ko Latt sits in his improved shop with a friend and shop attendant. Top right: Ko Latt fills an order of fertilizer for a local farmer. Bottom left: In Ko Latt's new shop, he offers a wide range of inputs and equipment such as sprayers, foliar solutions, and pest management products. Bottom right: Ko Latt stands in front of his newest shop and storage facility with his wife and IFDC staff.

So what did he do with the extra money? Ko Latt first invested more in his business by buying new supplies and equipment to sell or rent. Secondly, he opened an entirely new storefront several blocks away in a new building where he could safely store his products. Thirdly, he was able to donate to local religious organizations — a key part of Burmese social customs.

But more than that, he and his wife were finally making enough money to quit their jobs with Armo and focus on the shop full time. This meant that they could finally live together, and they are now beginning to focus on starting a family.

“I’m very happy to be living and working with my wife,” he said. “She helps with the second store and keeping accounts. IFDC provided us with a laptop and taught us good business practices so we can manage our business effectively.”

“I’m very happy to be living and working with my wife,” he said. “She helps with the second store and keeping accounts. IFDC provided us with a laptop and taught us good business practices so we can manage our business effectively.”

Ko Latt wants to continue growing his business by diversifying into the seed industry.

“There is a scarcity of seeds in the area right now, and with the DOA and key farmers, I have a desire to produce seeds required in the area,” he said. “I hope to continue farmer meetings and trainings with DOA in the future.”

But that’s not all he wants to grow.

“I’ve built my business, and now that my wife is with me, I want to build my family.”


Andy Thigpen and Aung Ko Win

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