Interview With Founding Director of CAD Kung Za Hmung
18 Feburary 2010 [CG Note: In the wake of mautam-caused food crisis in Burma’s Chin State, CAD (Country Agency for Rural Development) has been actively involved in responding to alleviate the effects and helping those victims suffering from starvation.
The founder-cum-director of CAD, Joseph Win Hlaing aka Kung Za Hmung is in the UK to further his studies for six months on a Foreign and Common Wealth Office Fellowship Programme. Van Biak Thang of Chinland Guardian talked to Kung Za Hmung about his programmes in the UK, CAD and updated situation of ongoing mautam food crisis in Chin State.]
Chinland Guardian: You arrived in the UK during the cold season with snows and chilly wind. How did you find? Tell us more about your programme?
Kung Za Hmung: An officer from the British embassy called upon me to see her in the embassy where she asked me if I could have further study in UK. Replying her how I was grateful to her for offering such impressive opportunity to me, I told her I could do it. She furthered her dialogue with me by questioning my writings, my humanitarian programs in Chin state, my vision on reconstruction of my beautiful country and my understanding of democracy. Basing on her questions, I said to her that all my writings of 8 books are what I believe and my knowledge that I like to share our people.
Relevant with my humanitarian programs in Chin state, I told her my country is in need of my contribution that I could do where people need most. My vision of reconstructing my beautiful country is that Myanmar will surely undergo some years of difficulties to flourish her democratic governance but she will steadily benefit it. I learn and experience around the world different types of democracies which vary not only with respect to their political processes but also with regard to their administrative cultures. It is however democracy which acknowledges the differences and solves them peacefully.
After about 4 months of my meeting with her, I was asked to write a paper which was finally sent to FCO. In October 2009, the embassy sent me a letter which mentioned that I am graciously awarded Fellowship Grant as a scholar by FCO to have further study in the University of York, UK. I am studying Political economics which I will temporarily stop at the end of April to go back to Myanmar where I will be monitoring my community development programs in Chin and Sagaing divisions.
As being a Chin, I am quite used to the weather of UK except the snows which I had only seen in movies and cards. Today, I myself pass the snows through to my college for 2 weeks. I find difficulties in adopting their food. So I cook myself in the sense that I could eat rice and my traditional food too.
Chinland Guardian: Is it what you are interested in?
Kung Za Hmung: Frankly speaking, what I am studying is now my interest but what I am solving in and mobilizing people in Chin state. I am being awarded this study not on my interest but on my practical life. I am being awarded this study on my paper to FCO.
Chinland Guardian: On 26 January 2010, you spoke at the House of Commons and also met with officials from FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Who did you meet with and tell us more about your messages to them? And do you think your messages were well received?
Kung Za Hmung: I was guided to the British parliament (BP) where an officer explained me the history of the building and functions of BP. Later on, I was brought to British foreign office (FCO) where I spent more than 4 hours and met four officers from Myanmar desk. One of them is Jenny Pearce, deputy Team leader for Burma and Mekong team. She asked me difficulties and concerns that I have on my programs in Chin state and in my country. I said to her that I am very grateful to her UK government and UK embassy in Myanmar for their strong financial assistances to our people but I said CAD could not get any funding from DFID due to lack of registration of CAD and due to DFID’s priority to Nargis affected areas.
Furthermore I encouraged her to galvanize their financial supports to our country and to CAD so that social welfare of Myanmar people could be sustainably addressed and improved. I saw my messages were well received by noting them down on her computer.
Chinland Guardian: Your recent report regarding the situation of people in Chin State said more than 80 per cent are in debt for buying food. Can you tell us about it in more details?
Kung Za Hmung: CAD has been spearheading rural development programs of the Chins only in Hakha, Thangtlang and Rezua townships in Chin state. Therefore all CAD’s reports represented the situation of the said three townships. That means CAD’s reports do not highlight the overall situation of the people in Chin state. They highlighted only 30% of the 3 townships of their food security situations. The reports that more than 80 percent of households are in debt for buying food are not merely only the result of rat infestation but also of chronic food insecurity too which has been existing since 50 years ago. When we say about food-security, we consider food-availability, food access, food use and asset creation of the people.
Nowadays, food availability is quite a challenging issue to be addressed because food production from shifting farming system is completely not supportive for more food security of the Chin people. Due to forestry depletion, they always face drought alike. Farmers have no access to knowledge expansion of modern agricultural technology and seeds. All 99% of seeds are inherited from our ancestors since 500 years ago that farms are in need of modernized seeds to be more productive.
Chinland Guardian: Your report also said that the health condition in Chin State is one of the biggest problems facing the Chin people, with their second highest expenses.
Kung Za Hmung: One of the biggest problems facing our people is lack of health knowledge or education. They have no health knowledge because of simultaneously no health educator and people’s interest on health education. Today, most of Chin physicians do not want to work at government hospitals in Chin state. Burmese physicians are transferred to work in government hospitals. The refusal of Chin physicians to work in Chin state is ignorance and negligence of public health of the Chin people. Chin physicians who eat Chin food and speak local languages could easily give health education to our Chin people. Therefore we, the Chin people, must firstly take the role of health-care of our Chin people rather than others by pursuing higher education in medical universities around the world.
Secondly, we must give health-education to our people in remote areas and finally, medical assistance must be present on the ground. Luckily, Merlin, UK based international non-governmental organization has been implementing malaria program in many villages in the central part of Chin state with local authority.
Chinland Guardian: Most of the Chin people are dependent on farming and cultivation. Deforestation mainly resulted from Chin traditional ‘slash-and-burn’ farming system has become a serious problem for the farmers in terms of long-term survival. What could be the best solution in your opinion?
Kung Za Hmung: I have 5 ways of best solutions for long-term survival of farmers. Firstly, modern agricultural technology must be transferred or given to our farmers for enhancing their human resources development and capacity so that they will be more productive and know soil conservation methods. Secondly, traditional farming system must be replaced with permanent farming system to prevent or protect forestry depletion and drought in our region.
Thirdly we should create environment of job or income opportunities such as cash-for-work. Fourthly, we must support bio-fertilizers or teach farmers method of bio-fertilizers to improve quality of existing land capacity, get soil conservation and prevent from accelerated erosion and soil degradation. Lastly, farmers should be encouraged to cultivate perennial crops which could not be destroyed by rodents and could find more markets and earnings for their income.
Chinland Guardian: CAD has been actively involved in implementing the ‘Cash-for-Food’ programme under the leadership of WFP (World Food Programme). There have been some criticisms about the programme, saying that it is not a good time for the villagers, who have already been suffering from starvation, to work on the road construction, and that only those who participate in the programme are given assistance. Is it true?
Kung Za Hmung: Firstly, CAD has no project of the Cash for Work programme with WFP at all. CAD had only Food for Work (FFW) program with WFP in 2009. I understand some criticisms about the FFW program but critics did not have obvious ground picture of the Chins where CAD is present. Firstly, our mandate is development program. So CAD does not have any relief program in Myanmar. Secondly, CAD is allowed to have FFW program only in Chin state. CAD had no option at all. I was on the tightrope.
Finally, I hereby made strong and tough decision by choosing less evil that we must do something rather than nothing for our local people. In our rapid assessment, we did not find any suffering from starvation among our beneficiaries in our project areas (about 50 villages) at all. Regarding on FFW program, only those who participated in the program are surely given food to which many families obtained about 30 bags (1.5 tonnages) of rice which is sufficient for two years’ food of 5 members of a household. We do not allow any person who is under 15 years of age to participate in FFW programme.
Therefore, as being a humanitarian person, I choose a legal less evil response by hood and by crook to protect the lives of our people by bringing our supports to them under the banner of food for work program. CAD has no ‘’Cash for Work program’’ with WFP in Chin state at all till 2009.
Chinland Guardian: There have been reports saying the mautam situation in Northern Chin State is getting better whereas that in Southern Chin State is getting worse. What actually happens there?
Kung Za Hmung: Chaired by WFP, we have monthly meeting in Yangon level among all UN agencies and NGOs which are working in Chin state. Besides, bringing reports and situation of their people, many protestant pastors from different villages of Southern Chin state visited me and asked me assistance but there is no proper assessment or report from agencies which are on the ground.
Generally, we agreed that mautam situation in Southern Chin state is worse than Northern area perhaps more UN and NGO have more development programs in the northern side. In fact, Care Myanmar, UNDP and Karuna Pya (KP) have been implementing social development programs in the Southern part of Chin state but I did not find any food-security report of the people from any of them either.
Last week, I heard that IRC (International Rescue Committee) and ADRA, which are international organizations, are going to start development programs in the Southern Chin state. Without seeing any assessment report of the Southern Chin state, I could not highlight the reason of getting worse and add any comment on it. With support of IRC, ADRA and existing agencies, people in the Southern Chin State will surely have better life and future very soon. CAD plans to start pilot program in Mindat area after my arrival to Myanmar alike.
Chinland Guardian: The consequences of the mautam are claimed to be taking three to five years for full recovery. As one of the relief and rural development groups, how do you see?
Kung Za Hmung: First of all, any UN or local NGO in Chin State says emergency occurs in Chin state. What we unanimously say is that food crisis is occurred and serious to be tackled in Chin state. Therefore all humanitarian agencies in Chin state are implementing sustainable development programs of the people rather than recovery one.
Relief program is a free distribution of aids to any victim but development assistance is a program which is in need of community contribution. Any development can be sustained in Chin state without any contribution of the Chins. Humanitarian agencies and local people must simultaneously and collaboratively contribute all their resources, capabilities and capacities together for sustainable development of the Chin people. Unless beneficiaries match work-norms of agencies and of donors, they will surely leave from our area.
Therefore, the Chin people must persuade government, donors and humanitarian agencies to continuously support our progressive cause by applying their procedures, work-norms and by tireless dedication of our poor but simple life to their programs for us. We must create and protect an auspicious environment where they can generously and freely implement development programs for us.
Chinland Guardian: Chin State has been claimed as the poorest and most undeveloped state in Burma. What is your view on taking steps towards making improvement?
Kung Za Hmung: Firstly, we all know that the Chin state does not yield any natural resources. Lack of natural resources could not persuade government and private investment in our region. Any investment is available in our region. Investments of technology and of finance are the blood of any state or region. Secondly, current farming is meant just for our own consumption, not market oriented. Our Chin agricultural system must be changed to market oriented sector.
Thirdly we are responsible for contemporary food insecurity of ourselves. Most of our domestic Chin people are not working for building strong integrated state, but working for just egoism which extinguishes national cohesionism. Finally, we are shortages of human resources in Chin state. We are urgently in need of human resources development to make benefits from our precious land which God gives us to till for our survival.
Chinland Guardian: What are the most difficult and happiest moments you have come across when dealing with the Chin people and their situations?
Kung Za Hmung: The happiest moments that I have come across are when our beneficiaries tell me that their living standard is being better changed by my programs and they say they are grateful to me and CAD. I am also very grateful to our government for its supports on our development programs in Chin state.
The most difficult moments that I have come across are when I could not support all what I am proposed by hundreds of villages due to scarcity of donors to Chin state, and when our humanitarian assistances could not freely enter into the Chin state, disturbed by Chin truck car owners in Hakha and Thangtlang cities.
Chinland Guardian: Tell us more about CAD.
Kung Za Hmung:
Background: The inception of CAD organization is propelled by 500 years of underdevelopment of Lautu region in Thantlang township where my parents are grown up. I am inspired and moved by backwardness of our Lautu people so much so that I must contribute whatever I could do to alleviate their low living standard towards better future. So I set up CAD organization on 6 May 2004.
Past and Current Programs: In 2005, CAD made Malaria Assessment (MA) at 18 villages in Lautu region and MA indicated that 58% of villagers suffered malaria and died. Therefore CAD started Malaria Combating and Micro Credit programs in 2006-2007 to reduce malaria illness, protect mortality and kick start regional economy. Post Malaria program survey indicated 28% of malaria is reduced in 2007 and 68 groups of women (1128 women) have already saved Kyat 50,000,000 which has been now injecting our Lautu economy in Thangtlang township. With support of WFP (World Food Programme), 102 kilometres of car road were constructed in 2008-2009. 5000 numbers of toilet bowls (fly-proof) were distributed to 4500 households and 500 of schools, rural clinics and religious centres in Hakha, Thangtlang and Rezua townships. 3 drinking water projects were supported to 3 villages in Thangtlang Township. 650 numbers of women are already given community development and building health family plan trainings in the said 3 townships. We have already replaced 122 acres of traditional farming with terracing farming in the said 3 townships to completely renounce traditional farming system. We have already planted 15,000 numbers of perennial trees or crops in Thangtlang and Rezua townships to restore forestry and rain or to protect environment with Cash for Work program. One school is built in Tisen village. CAD has been giving modern agricultural technology to 500 numbers of farmers so that they will become more productive and be able to produce market oriented crops in the said 3 townships.
2010 Programs: CAD already submitted proposals (Livelihood Program) to WFP and other donors for 2010 program which mounts about US$ 4.5 million. We are hoping to get funding of WFP. If WFP approves our program, 800 acres of shifting farming will be replaced with terracing farming to which 30 bags of rice per acre will be supported. 237 kilometres of car roads will be built in the Hakha, Thangtlang and Rezua townships under food for work program. 400 bags of rice per mile will be given to road builders. Agricultural trainings and health trainings to villagers will be given under food for training (2 kg of rice per day for five days per one). Under FFT program, 3100 numbers of villagers will be given agricultural, health and environmental trainings. We plan to use 3514.85 metric tons of rice and expect to reach 45,076 numbers of beneficiaries from livelihood program in 2010 in the central part of Chin state. We hope to start this program in the second week of February 2010 sooner CAD signs FLA (Field Level Agreement) with WFP.
1. Car road construction throughout the region will be prioritized so that people will have greater movement, better economic interactions and protection of lives from death. Emergence of good rural transport is the vital and backbone of rural agriculture and of farmers.
2. Traditional farming system will be replaced with modern farming system which supports market oriented agriculture. We plan to implement 10,000 acres of terracing farming (10,000 acres of traditional farming will be renounced) by the end of Year 2016. 10,000 acres of forests will be already preserved and protected.
3. Environment protection will be highly enhanced by planting millions of trees throughout the Chin state.
4. We will create income opportunities (Cash for work, micro-credit, jobs) in which our people could easily and safely make earnings for their better lives.
5. We will give agricultural knowledge expansion to our local farmers.
6. We will persuade our international and local funding and humanitarian agencies to invest their money, knowledge and technology by marketing the Chin state in abroad and inland.
7. We will give humanitarian and business capacity development programs to thousands of our Chin young people in 10 years so that they could compete others in looking for jobs around the country.