Time to scale up!

Read our previous updates here!

Happy New Year! It’s Thingyan!

Here in Myanmar, it is the end of the year. This week we start a fresh, new one — after a few days of water-soaked madness on every street in every town. It’s fun, and happy, and so totally liberating!

And it’s also a year since we decided to go all in and start Bokashi Myanmar.

Wow.

Last year, in the weeks leading up to Thingyan, our bokashi team ran all over Yangon and Mandalay meeting people, learning about waste and rice mills and gardening and local business and market needs. It was more than obvious the time was right for what we’re doing, so we took a deep breath – and did it.

We started for real in July last year, and in the months since have worked hard to get our idea off the ground. That organic waste is not trash. And that we can, if we succeed, solve contribute to solving two problems in one.

Basically: take the organic waste in the cities of Myanmar and turn it into valuable soil. And start a  #soilrevolution in the process.

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We’ve started a company

Now, as we head into the new year, we know a whole lot more than we did a year ago. Thank goodness! And we’re more committed than ever. 

Our team is growing, our methods are working, people are approaching us to find solutions. We have started a company, we are working hard to create systems and structures that will work for us, we have started a “bokashi compost farm”, and we are already starting to run training groups and study visits for gardeners, schools and community groups.

Starting a company is an important step for us. We did discuss, initially, whether we should be a project, an NGO, an INGO or a startup. In the end, it became quite obvious: a local company gives us the right base to grow independently, to make our own decisions, and to create a model for a sustainable, and completely new, type of business. There’s a thing called “Profit-for-purpose social enterprises” and we think that’s most likely what we are.

We have invested a lot in the startup we call Bokashi Myanmar. Time, energy, and personal funds. We’ve done that because we believe in what we’re doing and have always known it will succeed. Now the time has come to create a stable platform to build on for the future. And to do that we will think like entrepreneurs.

It’s basically a social enterprise, by charging commercial operators such as hotels and international schools for our products and services, we can fund the community projects that we so much want to do. Local schools, monasteries, slum projects, they are all important areas for us that we can help fund through paying customers in other areas. We will probably also apply for project funds in due course to help scale up community education and projects, that way we can do more, and faster.

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Bokashi compost farm

The key to it all is our new compost farm in North Dagon. It’s a very cool place where we are receiving large quantities of organic waste from local markets, street side stalls, hotels, schools and corporates in Yangon. Our aim is to scale up to 1 ton per day; we’re on our way to that.

Ultimately, of course, we will have more of these compost farms around the city (or maybe a bigger one outside) and potentially in other cities in Myanmar. But just now our focus is on making this one work, and finding out the “recipe” for setting it up. The main thing is that from a technical point of view, we know exactly what to do after months of testing in both wet and dry seasons. Our green-brown-black system (which we describe in more detail here) is working well. It’s fast, and makes great compost. And we now have a very fancy high-speed shredder which makes a world of difference to preparing our inputs.

Our “compost farm” is actually just a normal suburban plot of land, 60 foot by 80 foot, in the suburbs. We’ve ringed it with banana trees and are filling it with compost stacks. There are always trishaws, trucks and carts coming and going with dry leaves, market waste, coconut husks and blue barrels filled with food waste. Pretty soon, there will also be a stream of ready compost leaving the yard — along with shredded coconut husk for landscaping and other useful products we have on our drawing board.

It won’t be a farm as such, we really have no space to grow more than a few symbolic things, but our aim is to establish it as a demonstration yard, a kind of show room and training center.

People are already requesting training sessions with us, and as soon as we have that structured up we will open for bookings. Our target is July sometime, follow us on facebook and we’ll keep you posted!

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Farmers market

The other thing we’re really looking forward to is joining the Yangon Farmers’ Market! We’re starting in the next few weeks. Hope to see you there soon!

We’ll be bringing along bokashi barrels and bokashi bran so you can get what you need to start bokashi composting yourself at home. You’ll also be able to buy or order our bokashi compost, and stock up on some herb seedlings. Or just come and have a chat with us!

The market (which is every Saturday at Karaweik Palace Garden) also generates quite a lot of organic waste – so obviously we collect all of that and take it back with us. Helping to make the market a greener, cleaner experience for all of us.

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Growing team

So many people are talking to us about potential projects that sometimes we don’t know where to start. We are really a very micro team. But growing fast as interns and volunteers step in to join us, and bring their valuable skills. Our next (paid) recruitments will be people to help us in the yard, and after that to help us run the office.

Meanwhile, let me introduce some of the great people that have stepped up to join us:

  • Khaing, our office manager and market coordinator, who is doing post-graduate studies in environmental management. She makes everything possible!
  • Hans, our technical manager and hands-on supporter. He is making our yard work, step by step, starting shredders, building sheds, and finding ways to make everything work.
  • Caro, our project coordinator/program manager. Her background is in international projects; her skills are really helping us to stay focussed and find a sustainable strategy for our many potential projects.
  • Shannon, who is helping us to do a businesss plan. Structuring up our numbers and helping us find the path to break-even (and potentially also applying for grants to run community projects)

We are so incredibly grateful for everything you are doing!

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Global team

These last weeks have been busy: Aye Aye and Inda, two of the co-founders of Bokashi Myanmar, celebrated their wedding in March. Yay!

Stefi and Claire, two of our team members came from Belgium and New Zealand respectively to join the wedding and work with us here on the project for a few weeks.

Claire is an organic gardener with 30 years of experience who has worked with large-scale bokashi for many years. It’s great to have her on the team as she really knows what she’s doing when it comes to building gardens based on large volumes of food waste. She’s also done a lot of education over the years – gardeners, restaurants and schools – so it’s been really valuable having her around. And she’ll be back, for sure, to help us run any bigger food garden projects.

Stefi is running Bokashi Belgium, and along with being a bokashi expert she has been part of this project from the very start. We can thank her for our great new logo, and the fact that we now – finally! – have business cards. Stefi is based in Belgium, but a very real part of our team here, she too will be back!

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EM nature farming in Saraburi

Actually, it wasn’t just the wedding that pulled us all together. We were all of us at the international meeting of our EM colleagues in Saraburi, Thailand, for a week in March. Fantastic experience in an interesting place — we learned a lot on the EM farm. And for us, it’s also valuable to meet our fellow bokashi-people from around South-East Asia.

Few are working with bokashi in the way we are: harnessing household waste to make it possible to grow food in urban environments. Most of our colleagues are working with EM in agriculture, fish farming, and water remediation – the potential is enormous. We have chosen another path, and are developing methods in our way that are reasonably revolutionary. Many are following with interest, this is a transition that is needed throughout Asia.

The good thing is that we are building a strong and global network in this field. Everything we are learning here, we share. The only way we know is transparency. Projects similar to Bokashi Myanmar are starting in other parts of SE Asia, notably the Philippines and Cambodia. We have colleagues in Bhutan, Nepal, Malaysia and Bangladesh that are following with interest. It’s an exciting time – and we are really happy to be part of it.

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New projects

We’ve deliberately not started any big new projects in the last month – a wedding, an international course, a new organisation and a new yard have been more than enough. Oh, and I just realised I forgot to mention we have a new office too! Right next to the bokashi yard, so brilliant now that our organisation is starting to grow, and that the rainy season is soon upon us (hope the roof holds).

Our focus has been on making all existing projects work – and they are. The teamwork with RecyGlo is working nicely, and we are steadily adding new customers to the organic service. And soon we hope to have some exciting new developments to share!

Our school projects at Dulwich College and ISY are going well, they have eliminated food waste from their school AND got the students involved and excited about it. So well done! We’ve had a couple of wonderful school visits from some of the ISY students to our compost corner at U Thant House where they’ve been able to see what really happens with food waste — how it become soil, how new food grows, how much plants enjoy growing in this super soil. That what they do at school and home makes a difference.

The British Embassy has done a marvellous job starting up bokashi in the residence, in the family homes on the compound, and in the embassy office, the Council and the British Club. All the bokashi is reverting to the gardens of Belmont, the traditional residence, and the gardeners are doing a great job using it in the kitchen gardens there. Impressed. We are starting to work with other embassies and residence too; word is spreading.

Thingyan

And now – Happy Thingyan! See you soon at the Farmers’ Market, those of you who live in Yangon. Please come and buy our products, support what we’re doing, talk to us about how you can be part of it. We have a long way to go but are more than ever convinced that it will work.

It’s time. And it’s needed.

And thank you for joining us here!

Read the previous update here!

Our story started in March 2018, when a few of us decided to team up, put fear behind us, and make this happen. This is where it all started…

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