UPLift--Poverty Alleviation For The Ultra-Poor

UPLift is a program designed to empower communities on the Thai/Burmese border that lack food security, opportunities for income, and education. Through the use of small grants and skills trainings, these families receive the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty without having to rely on external aid indefinitely.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rain, Rain, Don't Go Away

It has become clear after four months that dry season farming will be an important constraint for UPLift to focus on to help poor families in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Mae Sot.

After reading that sentence, you probably have some questions in your head.  What does 'dry season farming' mean, exactly?  If it is a good source of income for people in impoverished areas, why isn't it practiced on a regular basis already?  And how does it apply to people on the other side of the world?  Why should we even know about it, for that matter?

Dry season farming is a term more easily understood when thinking about countries that have a rainy season.  This part of Thailand has three seasons--rainy season (July to October), cool season (November to February), and hot season (March to June).

Rainy season is the busiest time period for families in rural areas because they depend on the rainwater for their annual crops.  Planting and harvesting rice, corn or vegetables is usually started in June and completed by December.  For the remaining part of the year (January to May), sources of water are limited and most rural families have to stop farming.

Those that have low levels of education or lack Thai nationality usually travel to the nearest town and find day labor. Some common examples are construction work, street cleaning, and housekeeping.  The worst case scenarios are jobs like prostitution or drug smuggling, but the vast majority are simply jobs that don't provide minimum wage, and don't provide income on a daily basis.  All of this can be traced back to a limited water supply that causes experienced farmers to stop farming for five months. 

Things like irrigation systems and underground wells can provide farmers with the ability to grow another crop.  However, there is a problem with this mode of thinking--irrigation, wells, and water tanks are all expensive.  Families or schools with small amounts of land and small cash-on-hand cannot possibly afford these costs themselves, and must rely on the government or external sources for assistance.  Government and development organizations, on the other hand, don't like spending lots of money on technologies like these unless they benefit a large number of people.

Therefore, one challenge for UPLift is to find effective, inexpensive ways of storing and using water during dry season, so that individual families can increase or even double their annual income without going into debt.  For the past few months we have been experimenting with small water storage ideas for small plots of land (one acre or less).  Take a look at pictures of one such experiment, our rainwater reservoir in Ban Huay Lue, Chiang Rai Province.

We are designing a cheap water system with supplies that are easy to find in the area, so that families can maintain keep the water system for themselves.  Beyond the initial UPLift investment (we usually shoot for US$200-300 per family) and skills trainings, the target group can then be self-reliant, farm throughout the entire year, and not have to rely on local government or NGOs to provide budget.

Pictures of the process of building the reservoir can be found here and here.

Microfinance beyond credit: the human side of borrowing and lending

Microfinance Beyond Credit -- BRAC

The link above is an excellent description of why microfinance for ultra-poor families is helpful for families without exisiting options for having regular income. We here at UPLift use ideas such as these as inspiration, not only in locating the poorest families and communities here in Northern Thailand, but making lasting relationships with them as well.

As recently published on the BRAC blog.