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Winrock International

Volunteer Post

From Myanmar to California: Learning to Grow Green Gold

Winrock F2F program enables Myanmar producers to tour US avocado industry and import certified varieties from California.

Dr. Michael Thomas, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer

Dr. Michael B. Thomas is an agribusiness consultant who has worked in more than 20 countries in the last 20 years as an agricultural and agribusiness expert.

Twelve avocado producers, members of the Myanmar Avocado Producer and Exporter Association (MAVO) – a recently formed group of both large and smallholder farmers, have recently completed a 2-week study tour of the California avocado industry. “This training opportunity was a unique final outcome of a 5-year initiative led by Winrock International under the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) program”, said Dr. Michael Thomas, who organized and led the study tour.

“Although there were both cultural and language challenges, the California growers and industry leaders including staff from Calavo Growers, Mission Produce, West Pak, Bella Vado, the California Avocado Commission, and Brokaw Nursery were very welcoming in sharing their knowledge and exchanging ideas,” said Mrs. Sandar Myo, leader of the Myanmar delegation.

Study tour group visiting the Pine Tree Ranch in Santa Paula, California.
Study tour group visiting the West Pak Avocado, Inc. in Murietta, California.

“It is quite a unique experience to host a group of farmers in the United States who have followed up on recommendations so quickly, these farmers are well-organized and became highly motivated and inspired through the Winrock F2F program”, said Dr. Thomas. The rural farmers, primarily from avocado producing areas of Chin and Shan States, attended the 103rd annual meeting California Avocado Society in October. Following the meeting, they also visited and experienced first-hand current research orchards and packing house facilities in San Diego and Ventura counties, the leading California avocado-producing counties. The farmers also partnered with Brokaw Nursery, a leading wholesale subtropical tree nursery, to complete the first certified importation of 5 commercial avocado varieties. More than 125 smallholder farmers in Myanmar have now received portions of the 10,000 imported budwood. This cultivar introduction will help to establish a new germplasm repository and future certified nursery stock which will extend the avocado producing months and increase the production of improved avocado cultivars such as “Hass”, “Lamb Hass” and “Zutano”. The hope is that these improved cultivars will serve as a foundation to increase the acreage and production required for both domestic and emerging new export markets, especially in Asia.

Imported avocado budwood being distributed to farmers by the Myanmar Avocado Producer and Exporter Association.

Since 2014 Winrock International has partnered with the Myanmar Fruit, Vegetable, and Producers and Exporters (MFVP) as the local counterpart and facilitated the Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) exchange of seven avocado crop specialists from DC, Florida, and Hawaii including Todd Walton, Daniel Carrillo, Robert Flick, and Drs. Michael Thomas, Jonathan Crane, and Randy Ploetz. These specialists collectively provided a successful series of lectures, technical assistance workshops and hands-on practical training to hundreds of Myanmar farmers on easily-adoptable crop management techniques and value-chain components such farm management, nursery production, grafting, pruning, irrigation, pest and disease management, as well as post-harvest issues and value-added opportunities. The Farmer-to-Farmer Program is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and leverages the expertise of skilled U.S. volunteers to increase agriculture sector productivity and profitability, and strengthen agricultural sector institutions. The Asia F2F Program (2013-2018), in particular, implemented by Winrock, generated sustainable food security and economic growth in the agricultural sector by introducing new technologies and innovations, and developing local capacity for more productive, sustainable, and equitable agricultural systems in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar.

Members of Myanmar Avocado Producer and Exporter Association receiving imported California budwood at Yangon International airport.

As a result of this F2F partnership, avocado is now poised to become a crop with new economic potential in Myanmar providing new opportunities for local farmers. Although avocado is a fruit that is not native to Myanmar, farmers have long cultivated avocados. The current annual domestic production is small and characterized almost exclusively by locally accepted varieties. The significance of the fruit, known as “green gold” in new emerging global markets is still relatively undeveloped in Myanmar. Globally, the avocado is experiencing rapid new market acceptance and resulting in the establishment of acreage worldwide, especially in neighboring China.

Rural farmer tending to recently grafted avocado seedlings.