Jan 18, 2017  By Htawshae Lum Hkawng  Category: Blueprint Negev,

My Arava Story: Myanmar farmer finds career, and love, in the desert

Htawshae Lum Hkawng in his element. He credits his time studying at AICAT in Israel with giving him 
the tools for farming success. 

We're taking time to focus on stories from the beautiful Arava, Israel's southern desert. Residents of the Central Arava face many challenges, including the harsh climate, large distance between communities, and lack of accessibility to resources available in urban centers. JNF has partnered with the Central Arava Regional Council as part of our Blueprint Negev campaign to make the Negev habitable to the next generation of Israel's residents. 

I am from Myanmar. From 2011-2012 I came to Israel and studied in the agriculture diploma program at AICAT (Arava International Center for Agriculture Training). It was a truly amazing experience. I learned how to farm from square one: planting, pruning, feeding, sterilizing, irrigating, and cleaning until harvesting; packaging, cleaning, and maintaining the farm under the greenhouses and net houses. The program's model of combining classroom theory with practical work on the farm has given me the tools I need to go on and become a successful farmer.

When I returned home after completing my degree, I began working at an organization called Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), which had actually sent me to AICAT to study. I worked as an organic demonstration farm manager for 1.5 years. Then I worked as food security program coordinator until I joined a master's program in plant sciences with an emphasis on food security and food safety. During my time at KBC, I worked with more than 500 farmers in different areas within Kachin State in Myanmar. I learned in Israel not only how to manage the agriculture but how to start and run a successful agri-business, producing and distributing the farmers' products

More on the Arava
My Arava Story: A Kenyan agriculture student's 'extraordinary' new life
The magic that is life in the Arava desert: One family's story

One challenge was taking my skills learned at AICAT and adapting them to Myanmar. For example, when we grew tomatoes in Israel, we used rope for standing tomato plants. At home, I used bamboo shoots, shelving, and feeding fertilizers. In terms of products grown, we focus on rice in Myanmar because it's a staple of our diet. We provide the farmers with growing techniques and tips regarding collecting, milling, packaging, and distributing the rice to customers.

I'm so grateful to AICAT for giving me the knowledge to thrive in my business but also for introducing me to life partner. My wife was a fellow AICAT student. Though both from Myanmar, we didn't know each other before because she is from the south and I am from the north. On April 9, 2013, we got married and now we have a beautiful 2.5-year-old son. We named him Htawshae Arava Hkawng Lum because we miss and love the Arava. The Arava is full of fresh and wonderful memories for me and my wife. 

Recently, I noticed an opportunity in the AICAT bulletin that would aid me in my long-term goals. I applied to and was accepted to this program, the master of plant sciences with an emphasis on food security and safety. I am currently one of the master's students under the joint partnership of AICAT and Tel Aviv University, entering my fourth semester. I firmly believe I made the right choice and in the end the knowledge gained from this program will bring me further success in the agricultural sector. 

The Lm Hkawng family: two AICAT alumni and their son, who's named after the Arava desert.