Bokashi Myanmar is growing!

A quick summary of everything that’s happened here at Bokashi Myanmar this past year — it’s a LOT!

We recently had a visit from our bokashi colleagues from New Zealand and Belgium, and they were amazed that we’ve done – and learned – so much this year. When you’re in the middle of it all you don’t always see that. Often we’re busy just working out how to move forward we forget to look back at all we’ve achieved.

Let’s go back to this time last year, March, the days getting hotter, the Yangon air getting smokier and smokier. We had our new yard up and running, and employed the first of our expanded yard team.

Every day since then the yard team goes to off to collect organic waste from our local markets, usually around half a ton, comes back and processes it all into compost. We sell the compost when it’s ready, and in the couple of months it takes to be ready, we grow food in it. Not a lot, just for ourselves and our neighbours, but the yard looks beautiful. And our bananas are famous for tasting so good! The compost is truly excellent.

Our next target was to join the Yangon Farmers Market, which we did in May last year. We’ve been there every Saturday morning since, it’s a great spot to meet our customers, talk about bokashi, stock up on organic food. At the time it forced us to get organised with a lot of things like brochures, packaging, signage, pricing, transport. More challenging than you’d think, but like everything we do it gives us a chance to learn and in the end we get good at it. Now we really enjoy our Saturday mornings.

Next target was to get ourselves into the hotel food waste business. We were invited to take part in the Hotel Expo in Yangon last June, and that was a completely new type of experience for us. Training hundreds of chefs how to manage their food waste, talking on stage, talking with the many, many people that come to an exhibition like that. Can’t say that it led to any business directly, but in hindsight it was really valuable for us to meet the market and structure up our hotel food waste service, which is now taking off.

Monsoon forced us to fix our office (leaking roof! flooded yard!) and upgrade our methods. Again, all good training for us, as we now know how to succeed regardless of the weather.

Monsoon also brought personal challenges, half the team got chicungunya and while we struggled on, it wasn’t always so easy to keep things moving. We used the season to prepare our new range of training programs for households, gardeners, and hotel staff, as well as educational visits from schools and community groups. Rebuilt the website, worked on our social media.

All these many types of training seemed quite a lot to take on, but we have so many people asking for help that we realised we needed to structure it up. We set up the training sessions, started inviting people, scheduled regular time slots, and haven’t looked back since. Our trainings are popular! And they are also a good source of income for us, much needed.

We now run household workshops in our bokashi yard a couple of Sundays per month (in both English and Myanmar), and gardener training every second Tuesday. We are running customised hotel training sessions on site at hotels around the country and here in Yangon, and other types of specific training onsite as requested. And while we’re always trying to improve what we do, we generally get very good feedback from customers too. That makes us happy!

Once the rain stopped, we started with school visits at our bokashi yard, groups of 30-40 from a number of different schools. Mainly international schools at this stage, although next season we plan to actively invite groups from local schools.

To be honest, we were a bit nervous about starting up the school visits as none of us are educators. But we are passionate about what we do, and the subject is really very important so we made it work. And we get great feedback from teachers, parents and students.

For us, it’s important to put everything in context. So we talk about food waste, and about landfill. About dry leaves, and burning, and air pollution. About what the soil needs to be healthy, and how we can help. Why protecting the soil is so important to our future, and how all of this relates to climate change, and our ability to grow healthy food for the future.

If that all sounds quite heavy, it’s not. We divide the kids into a number of small groups, and keep them moving. With hands-on tasks at every station, like looking for bugs, digging in the compost, making leaf soup and planting seeds and plants. Our yard rabbit usually bounces around and steals the show though, sticking her nose into every activity and wrecking the kid’s concentration.

Our hotel ambitions have taken time: hotels in Myanmar are struggling financially and while they often have a good will to do the right thing, it takes time to get the wheels turning. Now they are starting however, and a couple of high profile hotels have taken the lead to show how food waste can, and should, be managed. Laguna Lodge, Ngwe Saung Yacht Club, Rosewood, and Boulder Bay Eco-resort: well done for refusing to send one more bag of food waste to landfill!

Hotels are important, because they generate an awful lot of food waste. One of our goals is to divert as much organic waste as we can from landfill, and hotels need to be seen to be doing the right thing by their customers. The problem for them up until now has been lack of a good method, but now when they see the bokashi method working at these hotels we’re hoping there will be more incentive for them give it a try.

We’ve also had many discussions with industrial food waste producers, and have recently signed a contract to take care of one ton of fish waste per day via a Japanese waste management company, DOWA. We weren’t at all sure we could actually handle fish waste (it is notorious for smelling bad), but after some tests we realised we could compost it really well using our methods. It’s a very nice low-tech solution that solves the landfill problem while also doing something good for the soil. Win-win in other words.

Meanwhile, we’re constantly having meetings with people, helping families and community groups get started with bokashi, talking at panel discussions and to school and other groups. For us it’s a fine balance between doing things that make money as we are self-financed and need to pay the bills like any other company, and doing things that bring education and inspiration to the community.

A BIG highlight on the presentation front was in February this year when Inda from our team did a talk at TEDx Yangon. The theme: Organic waste is not trash. And it was fabulous!

Don’t ever underestimate how much work goes into arranging a TED event; it is a huge undertaking. And the speakers this year were all extremely interesting, as well as being very brave to do what they did. The whole event was a privilege to be part of.

Leaves. We want to #stoptheburning as it is destroying the air we breathe here in Yangon and all over the country. We’ve started an awareness campaign and are doing what we can to encourage people to think twice before they burn, consider alternative ways of using the leaves. We suggest methods for very simple composting that anyone can do, run training sessions for gardeners, and even pick up truckloads of leaves from around the city if they are bagged up for us.

We use a lot of dry leaves in our compost process, so are continually on the lookout for more. Bottom line is that we all need to start seeing dry leaves as the valuable resource they are, as a way to feed the soil, and not a trash pile to be gotten rid of.

This leaf thing will be a super long-haul project, but we feel we have to start the ball rolling. We print and distribute brochures in Myanmar and English, we work with our supporters in various parts of the city to coordinate leaf collection efforts. The media has picked up on the story on a number of occasions, tv and print, and school groups at ISY and others are now joining the campaign. Like everything, we have to start somewhere, and get the ball rolling. A big change in mindset is needed on this one.

Our priorities for this year are really just to move forward on all fronts. Our team is growing in strength by the month, and even in size, although we are now around 10 people if you include the three of us who are foreigners.

We’ve now got the hang of bookkeeping and have done two annual tax returns. We have some structure in our plans and budgets (not a lot, but a big improvement!), and our packaging, graphics, marketing and social media is coming along really well. We are outsourcing all the paperwork to do with HR which is a relief, and are teaching ourselves new skills all the time.

Our main strengths are passion, energy and resilience. We all believe totally in what we are doing, and why. Believe me, we get tired, the whole team is working way harder than we probably should and one of our challenges this year is to learn how to have days off. It is actually not that easy to start something new like this, change the mindset and behaviour of a country, and we sometimes get very frustrated and sad. But the resilience thing is good to have; we generally bounce back pretty quickly, and decide to just make it work. We specifically do not let fear get in our way.

Financial goal for the year is to reach breakeven, so we can go on and grow. Social goal is to go on having fun, and enjoying what we do, because it is a whole lot of fun being part of the Bokashi Myanmar team. Development goal is to keep learning, getting better at what we do, growing our skills. And always remember our why; that by saving the soil, we can save ourselves.

We have everything we need, now it’s just to make it happen!

BREAKING NEWS: We just got featured in a brilliant YouTube video on what we’re doing with food waste here in Myanmar. Check out The FOOD WASTE MAN!

The FOOD WASTE MAN!

We had a great visit this week from Drew Binsky, global YouTube star and all-round nice guy. He’d picked up on what we’re doing with food waste here in Yangon after our TEDx talk in Yangon recently, and came out to our bokashi yard in North Dagon to see what we were up to.

Turned out to be a super nice day, and he captured brilliantly the essence of what we are doing. Love this video!

Thanks Drew for making this happen!
/Inda and the Bokashi Myanmar team

In Drew’s words, after his “bokashi day”:

“Today on the outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar, I met an amazing guy named Inda who started Bokashi Myanmar. His vision is to create a cleaner and greener Myanmar by turning everyday FOOD WASTE into rich soil including plants, fruits and vegetables. 

All you have to do is store all of your food waste at home into little bins to ferment for a week, then add the magical Bokashi bran and after 6-8 weeks, your food waste transformers into living soil.

It’s such an easy concept — almost too simple to believe — but it really works as I saw with my own eyes, and and everyone can do it at home!

Bokashi can be purchased online and shipped to anywhere worldwide, so SHARE this video to help spread the word and inspire others how easy it is to live a more sustainable life. 

Follow Drew Binsky for daily travel videos, and join me on Instagram for more stories like this one!  https://instagram.com/drewbinsky

This is where you can see the original facebook post:

This is the link to the YouTube video of The FOOD WASTE MAN

By the way, he and Inda also made a lovely video together on The kissing sound in Myanmar – believe it or not, it’s a thing. Watch it and enjoy!

Our TEDx talk in Yangon!

Taking part in a TED talk is an amazing experience. This month we got to do it here in Yangon: Inda stepped up on stage and talked about what we are doing at Bokashi Myanmar and our mantra of “Organic waste is not trash”.

Months of work go into a TEDx event like this. The talks are written and rewritten, discussed, pulled apart, put back together again. And rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. So much love and effort from the curation team, and all the other volunteers who make it all come together, magically, on the day.

Are the speakers nervous? You bet. But the whole group put on an amazing performance. Inda was fantastic! Our whole team were there holding our breath, supporting, believing in him. And he did great.

The audience really enjoyed it, and the reaction was that many, many people had started a thought process as a result. The more of us that get involved in the “soil revolution” the better!

The TEDx Yangon team will put up a video of each talk on YouTube in the next weeks. We’ll post it here as soon as it is available. Meanwhile, you can see the highlights from the event in the video below.

The talk is in Myanmar, but Inda recorded an English voiceover so that the rest of the audience could listen to him in English. I’m trying to get hold of that voiceover file, and will post it here. Meanwhile, the transcripts are recorded below in both languages, so if you’re curious please read!

Watch the highlights of the event here!
Scroll to 4:20 to see Inda talking about Organic waste is not trash:


Read more about TEDx Yangon here: https://www.ted.com/tedx/events/35452

Inda Aung Soe
Soil Warrior

Inda is one of the three co-founders of Bokashi Myanmar which promotes the message that organic waste is not trash. He conducts training and educational sessions for students, gardeners, hotels, schools, NGOs and companies to highlight the importance of soil and food waste recycling. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Buddhism Studies, and attended further studies in Nature and Farming and Effective Microorganisms (EM) Technology organized by Asia Pacific Natural Agriculture Network.

Watch the bokashi video that was in the middle of Inda’s TEDx talk:

Time lapse video https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Cr2uqpxQJ2k

Read Inda’s TEDx Yangon talk in English here:

FOOD WASTE IS NOT TRASH / INDA AUNG SOE

There is something we all produce – without even thinking about it – every single day. Every one of us, at home in our kitchen. That thing is TRASH. And today, I’m here to talk about it – our fantastic trash.

When we talk about trash here in Myanmar, we usually divide it into two types: wet waste and dry waste. Most people have picked up on the word “Recycling” by now. 

We’re all quite familiar with the concept of recycling DRY waste like plastic bottles, glass, metal, electronic waste, and so on. A number of businesses and organisations are working in this area already.

But what about ORGANIC waste?

It seems like organic waste, wet waste, FOOD waste, is a forgotten subject… No one talks about it. 

According to surveys by the World Bank and YCDC, the Yangon City Development Committee, the amount of trash being collected in Yangon, is around 2,500 to 3,000 tons, daily.

THREE-QUARTERS of all that trash is organic waste such as food waste. It comes from households, it comes from restaurants, hotels, schools, international schools and monasteries. It comes from factories, local markets and fruit shops. And it also comes from gardens and parks – leaves, grass cuttings, garden trimmings and branches.

All of this is dumped every day on the landfills of Yangon.

What happens actually when we dump all this organic waste on our landfills? 

Well, it really causes a lot of problems.

Let’s look at them:

  1. Rotting food. When food waste and other organic waste rots in a landfill it smells terrible and spreads pathogenic bacteria. This is not only unpleasant for people living nearby, it can make them sick. 
  2. CO2 and methane gases. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency,  12% of global carbon emissions come from food waste. This makes food waste the fifth biggest source of carbon gases in the world. This makes it a serious contributor to climate change and global warming. 
  3. Methane is flammable. Methane is also a dangerous natural gas which is highly flammable. Our trash bags are basically methane bombs. Our final dumpsites are like methane tanks. Remember the landfill fire last two years ago? Get used to it, there will be more if we don’t do something about all the organic waste in our landfills. 
  4. The landfills are full. There’s simply not enough space left for more trash. In their report early last year, the YCDC said landfill space in Yangon will run out in two to three years. It’s now a year later, so we are down to two years. 

These are just some of the problems we’re facing when it comes to unmanaged trash in Yangon.

So, do we have any solutions to all these problems related to organic waste? Yes, we do.

From the many good methods that are being used around the world, we’ve picked up on a method called “bokashi”. It’s a method that means we can make compost soil out of our household food waste.

It’s easy. What we need to do is collect the food waste we produce during the day in our kitchen at home, put it in an airtight bucket or bin, and then ferment it using EM bokashi bran for a week. It will smell something like kimchi. A week later we mix this fermented food waste with soil in a place we want to grow something. Or you can mix it with the soil in a potplant if you live in an apartment or a condo. Let’s have a look at how easy it is to prepare a pot plant with our food wastes.

It’s that easy. From food waste to a new plant growing takes a week or two.

When we do this at home or anywhere else, we start using three-quarters of our daily trash to make fertile compost soil. This means we have way less trash every day. And we also start to solve many of the problems I talked about earlier that are caused by all this organic waste going to landfill.

As one of many good methods, let me tell you why we picked up on bokashi.

  1. It’s very hands-on. It doesn’t need any high-tech equipment, which means you can do it in your kitchen at home or even on your balcony. 
  2. It’s very space efficient. It takes very little space at home, it’s enough with a few flower pots. 
  3. It’s also cost-effective. The monthly cost to manage all your organic waste at home is about the same as a bunch of bananas. 
  4. Everyone can do this. Even people with little or no education. The biology is complex, but there’s nothing technical or complicated about getting started once you know what to do. 

So this is why we’ve chosen this method, the bokashi method that turns food waste into compost soil. At the moment, we believe it is the best available method for Myanmar and its people. And anywhere else, for that matter.

When we talk about organic waste here, dry leaves are an important part of the story. Leaves are falling every day now in the dry season. More or less every household here in Yangon is sweeping up their dry leaves and burning them, along with plastic trash. Early each morning and evening people make small fires on every street corner. Cosy? Perhaps. But during these dry months the air quality here is terrible and people become sick from the air pollution. 

Instead of burning them, we can use these dry leaves with our kitchen waste to make natural soil compost. 

So, we’ve now talked about the problems our organic waste is causing us, and how we can solve them on a household level. I guess you’re wondering if anyone is actually doing this here in Yangon? Of course. We are.

Two years ago, we founded a team called Bokashi Myanmar and we’ve been composting organic waste since then.  

Let me share with you some of the projects that we’re running at the moment.

  1. Back alley composting project. From the food waste from 80 households who signed up for the project, we’re making bokashi compost soil that can be used to help boost the small gardens in the back alleys.
  2. In North Dagon, we run a bokashi yard where we make 20 tons of compost per month from the organic waste from our local wet markets, along with the food waste from a number of restaurants, international schools, and hotels. We are currently expanding this. The yard is not big – it’s just a normal suburban block on the main street of the local ward. It could easily be replicated elsewhere.
  3. We’re also training householders, gardeners, school and hotel staff to set up their own composting cycles. We’re also helping hotels outside Yangon to process all their own food waste on site, diverting it from landfill and helping them start their own food gardens instead.

You might be wondering by now, who should make this happen? An NGO? The government? The Yangon City Development Council, YCDC? If any of these organisations want to be part of the solution, that would of course be great. But we don’t have to wait for them – we are the ones producing a lot of this organic waste in our homes and kitchens, so it’s also up to us to do something about it. If we can cooperate with the bigger organisations in future, that’s great. But in the meantime, it’s up to us. If I have a solution, I will make something happen. If you have a solution, you should make something happen.

That way we can all work together to reduce this mountain of organic waste, and create a cleaner and greener environment for us all to live in. That’s why, to make the city, the country we live in a cleaner and greener place by start composting of all our oragnic wastes, let me urge you all to join in our #SoilRevolution.

Thank you. 

Read Inda’s TEDx Yangon talk in Myanmar here:

ကျွန်တော်တို့တစ်ဦးချင်းစီလိုက်ကရော တစ်အိမ်ချင်းစီလိုက်ကပါ
နေ့စဉ်နဲ့အမျှထွက်ရှိနေပေမယ့် ကျနော်တို့ မေ့လျော့ထားတဲ့အရာတစ်ခုရှိပါတယ်။

အဲ့ဒါကတော့ အမှိုက်ပါ။ဟုတ်ကဲ့ ကျွန်တော်ဒီနေ့အမှိုက်အကြောင်းပြောဖို့ဒီကိုလာခဲ့တာပါခင်ဗျာ့။

အမှိုက်လို့ပြောလိုက်ပြီဆိုရင်မြန်မာပြည်မှာသတ်မှတ်ထားတာကတော့ အမှိုက်စိုရယ် အမှိုက်ခြောက် ရယ်ဆိုပြီနှစ်မျိုးခွဲခြားကြတယ်ပေါ့ဗျာ။ ပြီးတော့တစ်ခါတည်းတွဲပြီးသိတာကအမှိုက်ဆိုလို့ရှိရင် recycle ကိုပါတွဲပြီးသိကြတယ်။ recycle လို့ပြောလိုက်ပြီဆိုလို့ရှိရင်လည်းအများစုက ပလက်စတစ်တို့ ဖန်တို့ မှန်တို့ သတ္ထု သံစတွေနဲ့ electronic waste တွေလိုမျိုး ဒီလိုအမှိုက်တွေကို recycle လုပ်တာမျိုးကြတော့လူတွေကသိကြတယ်။
သူ့ဟာနဲ့သူrecycle လုပ်နေတဲ့ sector တွေ business တွေလည်း ရှိထားပြီးသား။

အမှိုက်ရဲ့အများစုပမာဏဖြစ်တဲ့ organic waste သို့မဟုတ်wet wasteပေါ့ ဒီအမှိုက်စိုတွေကိုကျတော့ Recycle လုပ်တဲ့ sector လည်းမရှိသေးဘူး။ ပြီးတော့recycle လုပ်လို့ရတယ်ဆိုတာသိတဲ့သူလည်းနည်းပါသေးတယ်ခင်ဗျာ့။အဲ့ဒါကြောင့်ကျွန်တော်ဒီအပိုင်းကိုပြောချင်တာပါ။

အခု၂၀၁၉ ခုနှစ်တုန်းက- World Bank နဲ့ YCDC ကနေထုတ်ပြန်လိုက်တဲ့ စာရင်းဇယားအရဆိုရင် ရန်ကုန်မြို့ပေါ်မှာတင်ကို တစ်နေ့တစ်နေ့အမှိုက် တန်ပေါင်း ၂၅၀၀ နဲ့ ၃၀၀၀ ကြားထွက်ပါတယ် ခင်ဗျ။

အဲ့ဒီအမှိုက်တွေကို ၄ပုံ ပုံလိုက်မယ်ဆိုရင် ၃ ပုံလောက်က food waste တွေ kitchen waste တွေလိုမျိုး organic waste တွေ biodegradable ဖြစ်တဲ့waste တွေ။ အဲ့အမှိုက်တွေကို recycle လုပ်တဲ့ sector လည်းမရှိသေးတဲ့အတွက်ကြောင့်ဒါတွေအားလုံးဟာအမှိုက်ပုံမှာပဲ လမ်းဆုံးကြရပါတယ်။

အဲ့ဒီမှာပြဿနာတွေရှိပါတယ်ခင်ဗျ။အဲ့တော့ အမှိုက်နဲ့ ပတ်သက်တဲ့ပြဿနာလေးတွေ နည်းနည်းလေး ပြောပါရစေဗျ။
တစ်က ဒါတွေကိုအမှိုက်ပုံမှာ ဒီအတိုင်းသွားပုံထားလို့ရှိရင် ပုပ်သိုးပြီးတော့ ပျက်ဆီးတာပါပဲ။ ဒီလို ပုပ်သိုးခြင်းကနေ ထွက်တဲ့ အနံ့အသက်ဆိုးတွေနဲ့ pythogenic bacteria စတာတွေကြောင့်၊ အမှိုက်ပုံနဲ့အနီးအနားဝန်းကျင်မှာ မလွဲမရှောင်သာ နေနေကြရသူတွေနဲ့၊ အလုပ်လုပ်ကြရသူတွေအတွက် အသက်ရှုလမ်းကြောင်းဆိုင်ရာ ပြဿနာလိုမျိုး အပါအဝင် ကျန်းမာရေး ပြဿနာတွေကိုလည်း ဖြစ်ပေါ်စေပါတယ်။

နောက်တစ်ခုကကျတော့ ဒီအမှိုက်တွေပုပ်သိုးခြင်းကနေ ကာဗွန်ဒိုင်အောက်ဆိုဒ်တို့လို မီသိန်းတို့လို GHGs ဓါတ်ငွေ့တွေ ထွက်ပါတယ်ဗျ။ ပြီးခဲ့တဲ့နှစ်က ထုတ်ပြန်ခဲ့တဲ့ US environmental protection agency ရဲ့ စစ်တမ်းအရဆိုရင် တကမ္ဘာလုံးအတိုင်းအတာနဲ့ ကျနော်တို့ရဲ့ kitchen waste တွေ food waste တွေက ထွက်တဲ့ carbon emission ဟာ 12% ရှိပါတယ်။ ဒါ global carbon emissions မှာ (၅) ပဉ္စမမြောက် အကြီးဆုံး Carbon source လည်း ဖြစ်ပါတယ်။

ပြီးတော့ ဒီ GHGs တွေထဲက တစ်ခုဖြစ်တဲ့ မီသိန်းပေါ့နော်။ ဒီမီသိန်းကမီးလောင်လွယ်တဲ့ ဓါတ်ငွေ့လည်းဖြစ်တယ် အဲ့ဒါကြောင့်မို့လို့ အမှိုက်ပုံ
ကြီးတွေဟာ ဒီမီသိန်းဓာတ်ငွေ့အသိုက်ကြီးလိုဖြစ်နေတယ်ပေါ့နော်။ အဲ့ဒါမျိုးတွေကြောင့်ပဲ နွေရာသီလိုမျိုး ပူတဲ့အချိန်မျိုးတွေဆိုရင် အခန့်မသင့်ရင် မီးပါလောင်တတ်တယ်။ လွန်ခဲ့တဲ့ ၂ နှစ်လောက်က ထိန်ပင်အမှိုက်ပုံမှာ မီးအကြီးအကျယ်လောင်တာ မှတ်မိကြအုံးမယ်ထင်ပါတယ်။ ဒါမျိုးတွေက ကျနော်တို့ရဲ့ အမှိုက်တွေကိုသာ စနစ်တကျ မစီမံတတ်ရင် ဖြစ်လာဖို့အလားအလာ အများကြီးရှိသေးတဲ့အတွက် စိုးရိမ်ရပါတယ်။

ဒီလိုမျိုး အမှိုက်နဲ့ ပတ်သက်တဲ့ပြဿနာတွေ အပြင်ကို နောက်ထပ် ဒီမနှစ်က ၂၀၁၉ ခုနှစ်ကထုတ်ပြန်တဲ့ YCDCရဲ့ အချက်အလက်နဲ့ စာရင်းဇယားတွေအရဆိုရင် ရန်ကုန်မြို့မှာ အမှိုက်ပုံစရာ ဧရိယာက နောက်သုံးနှစ်စာအတွက်ပဲကျန်တော့တယ်လို့ ထုတ်ပြန်ခဲ့ပါတယ်။

ဒါဟာ ၂၀၁၉ အစောပိုင်းတုံးက ထုတ်ပြန်ခဲ့တာပါ။ အခု ၂၀၂၀ ခုနှစ်ကို ရောက်ပြီဖြစ်လို့ ကျနော်တို့ တစ်နှစ်ကုန်ခဲ့ပြီးပါပြီ။ နောက် ၂ နှစ်စာပဲကျန်ပါတော့တယ်။ အဲ့လို space ပြဿနာလည်းရှိပါတယ်။ ဒါအမှိုက်နဲ့ပတ်သက်တဲ့ ပြဿနာတွေထဲက တချို့ကို ထုတ်ပြတာပေါ့။ အဲ့တော့ ဒီပြဿနာတွေကို ကျနော်တို့ ဖြေရှင်းနည်း ရှိပါသလားဆိုတော့ ဟုတ်ကဲ့ ရှိပါတယ်။

ဖြေရှင်းနည်းတွေက အခုဆိုလို့ရှိရင်ကမ္ဘာ့နိုင်ငံ အသီးသီးမှာလုပ်နေကြတဲ့ waste management လုပ်တဲ့နည်းတွေ အများကြီးရှိတဲ့အထဲကမှ အခုလောလောဆယ် ကျနော်ပြောချင်တာကတော့ Bokashi လို့ခေါ်တဲ့ သဘာဝမြေဆွေးလုပ်တဲ့ နည်းစနစ်တစ်ခုပါ။ သူက လုပ်ပုံလုပ်နည်းကလည်း လွယ်ကူပါတယ်။
ကိုယ့်အိမ်ကနေ တစ်နေ့စာ တနေ့စာ အမှိုက်တွေကို စုပြီးတော့ လေလုံတဲ့ပုံးတစ်ပုံးမှာထည့်မယ်။
EM အကျိုးပြုအနုဇီဝပိုးလေးတွေနဲ့ ရောပြီးအချဉ်ဖောက်
တစ်ပါတ်လောက်နေတဲ့အခါကျရင် ကိုယ်အပင်စိုက်မယ့် နေရာမှာ မြေနဲ့ရောထားလိုက်။ ကိုယ်ကနောက်ဆုံး တိုက်ခန်းတို့ ကွန်ဒိုတို့မှာနေတယ်ဆိုရင်လည်း ပန်းအိုးလေးတစ်လုံးမှာ မြေနဲ့ရောပြီးတော့ ထည့်ထားပေးလိုက်။
နောက်တစ်ပါတ်နေရင်အပင်စိုက်လို့ရပါပြီ။ အဲ့လောက်အထိလွယ်ကူပါတယ်။ ဆိုတော့ လုပ်ပုံလေး ကြည့်လိုက်ကြရအောင်ပါ။

ဒီလိုလုပ်မယ်ဆိုရင် အစောက ကျနော်ပြောခဲ့တဲ့ အမှိုက်ပမာဏထဲက ၄ ချိုး ၃ ချိုးဖြစ်တဲ့ organic waste တွေကို ကျနော်တို့ ဒီလိုမျိုး မြေဆွေးအဖြစ်ပြောင်းနိုင်မယ်ဆိုရင် အမှိုက်ပမာဏလည်း အတော်များများ လျော့ကျနိုင်မှာဖြစ်သလို အစောကပြောခဲ့တဲ့ ပြဿနာတွေကို အတော်များများဖြေရှင်းပြီးသားဖြစ်သွားမှာပါခင်ဗျ။

ဒါဆိုရင် နည်းလမ်းကောင်းတွေအများကြီးရှိတဲ့အထဲက ဘာလို့ဘိုကာရှီကို ရွေးသလဲဆိုတော့

တစ်က ဒါက Hands on ဖြစ်လို့ပါ။ ဘယ်လို High technology မှလည်းမပါဘူး ဘယ်စက်ပစ္စည်းကရိယာမှလည်း သုံးစရာမလိုပဲနဲ့ လူတိုင်းကလုပ်လို့ရတဲ့နည်းစနစ် ကိုယ့်မီးဖိုချောင် ကိုယ့်အိမ်ဝရံတာမှာတင် လုပ်လို့ရတဲ့နည်းစနစ်ဖြစ်လို့ပါ။

နှစ်ကတော့ space efficientပေါ့။ နေရာလည်း ဘာမှ မစားပါဘူး။ ပန်းအိုးလေး တစ်လုံးရှိရုံနဲ့ စလို့ရပါပြီ။

သုံးကတော့ cost effective ပေါ့။ ကိုယ်တစ်လလုံးလုံး ကိုယ့်အိမ်က ထွက်တဲ့ food waste တွေ kitchen waste တွေ အဲ့လို organic waste တွေကိုစုစည်းပြီးတော့ မြေဆွေးလုပ်ဖို့အတွက်ကိုမှ တစ်လလုံးမှာကုန်ကျမယ့်စရိတ်က ငှက်ပျောသီးတစ်ဖီးစာထက် ပိုမကုန်ပါဘူး။ ဒီလောက်အထိကုန်ကျစရိတ်လည်း နည်းပါတယ်။

နောက်တစ်ခုကကျတော့ လူတိုင်းပါဝင်လုပ်ဆောင်လို့ရတယ်။ နောက်တစ်ခုကကျတော့ လူတိုင်းပါဝင်လုပ်ဆောင်လို့ရတယ်။ ပညာသိပ်ပြီးတော့ မတတ်ကျတဲ့ သို့မဟုတ် ကျောင်းတွေဘာတွေ သိပ်မနေဖြစ်ကျတဲ့ စာမတတ်တဲ့ လူတွေဘာတွေကအစပေါ့ လူတိုင်းပါဝင်ပြီးတော့ လုပ်လိုရတယ်။ ဘယ်လိုနည်းစနစ်အမြင့်တွေမှလည်း မပါတဲ့အတွက်ကြောင့် မြန်မာပြည်နဲ့ ကိုက်ညီတဲ့နည်းစနစ်ဖြစ်တယ်လို့ ယုံကြည်ပြီးကျနော်တို့တတွေယုံ

ပြီးတော့ organic waste တွေလို့ပြောရင် သစ်ရွက်ခြောက်တွေလည်းပါတယ်ဗျ။ အခုလိုခြောက်သွေ့ရာသီကို ရောက်ပြီဆိုလို့ရှိရင် သစ်ရွက်ခြောက်တွေလည်းအရမ်းကြွေကျတယ်။

အခုရန်ကုန်မြို့မှာဆို ဒီအချိန် မနက်အစောနဲ့ ညနေ ဘက်တွေတိုင်း မီးတွေ အရမ်းရှို့ကျတယ်။ ပြီးတော့ နှစ်တစ်နှစ်ရဲ့ ဒီအချိန်ကိုရောက်တိုင်း ရန်ကုန်မြို့ရဲ့ air quality ကလည်း အမြဲတမ်း အနှိမ့်ဆုံးအဆင့်ကို ရောက်ပါတယ်။ လေထုညစ်ညမ်းမူကလည်း အမြဲတမ်းပိုပြီးတော့ မြင့်မားလာပါတယ်။ ဒီသစ်ရွက်ခြောက်တွေကိုလည်း အစောကပြောတဲ့ kitchen waste တွေ food waste တွေနဲ့ တခါတည်းရောပြီးတော့ မြေဆွေးမြေဩဇာပြုလုပ်ခြင်းအားဖြင့် ကျနော်တို့တွေစီမံနိုင်ပါတယ်။ မီးရှို့မယ့်အစားပေါ့။ ဒီလိုလေးတွေရှိပါတယ်။ အဲ့တော့ အမှိုက်နဲ့ ပတ်သက်ပြီးတော့ ပြဿနာတွေကိုလည်း ကျနော်တို့သိပြီ။ ဖြေရှင်းနည်းတွေကိုလည်းသိပြီ။ ဒါဆိုရင် ဒီနည်းစနစ်တွေကို စပြီးလုပ်နေတဲ့သူတွေရှိပြီလားဆိုပြီးတော့ ကျနော်တို့ မေးစရာလေးတွေ ရှိပါတယ်။ ဟုတ်ကဲ့။

ပြီးခဲ့တဲ့ ၂ နှစ်လောက်က စပြီးတော့ ကျနော်တို့ Bokashi Myanmar ဆိုတဲ့ အဖွဲ့အစည်းလေးတစ်ခု ကို ပူးပေါင်းတည်ထောင်ကြပြီးတော့ ဒီ organic waste တွေကို ကျနော်တို့ မြေဆွေးလုပ်ဖို့အတွက် စပြီးတော့ လုပ်ဆောင်ခဲ့ကျတယ်။ ဒီအထဲကမှ ကျနော်တို့ အလုပ်ဖြစ်တာလေးကို နည်းနည်းလေး ပြောချင်လို့။ ဥပမာ မြို့ထဲမှာ downtown မှာဆိုရင်လည်း back alley ပေါ့ တိုက်နောက်ဖေး project တွေ ကျနော်တို့ လုပ်နေတာရှိပါတယ်။ အဲ့ဘက်က အိမ်ထောင်စု ၈၀ လောက်ကနေ ပါဝင်တဲ့ သူတို့ဆီကထွက်တဲ့ တစ်နေ့တစ်နေ့ kitchen waste တွေကို စုပြီးတော့ သူတို့တိုက်နောက်ဖေးလမ်းကြားလေးမှာတင်ပဲ မြေဆွေးပြန်လုပ်ပြီးတော့ တိုက်နောက်ဖေးပန်းခြံလေးတွေ လုပ်ဖို့အတွက်လည်း

ကျနော်တို့လုပ်နေတာ အဲ့ project လည်း အခုအချိန်ထိသွားနေဆဲပါ။

နောက်ပြီးတော့ မြောက်ဒဂုံမှာဆိုရင်လည်း ဘိုကာရှီမြန်မာမြေဆွေးခြံတစ်ခုတည်ဆောက်ပြီးတော့ ကျနော်တို့ ရပ်ကွက်စျေးကထွက်တဲ့ စျေးထွက်အဖြုန်းတွေ နောက်ပြီးတော့ တချို့ International school တွေ restaurants တွေ ကနေပို့တဲ့ food waste တွေ နောက်ပြီးတော့ သစ်ရွက်ခြောက်တွေ ဒါတွေကို ပေါင်းပြီးတော့ မြေဆွေး တန် ၂၀ နီးပါးလောက် ကျနော်တို့ လုပ်နိုင်တဲ့ မြေဆွေးခြံတစ်ခြံကိုလည်း တည်ထောင်ပြီးတော့ လုပ်ကိုင်နေပါတယ်။ ဒါမယ့်မြေဆွေးခြံလို့ ပြောလိုက်တဲ့အတွက် ခြံအကျယ်ကြီးမဟုတ်ပါဘူး။ သာမန်လူနေအိမ်ခြံရပ်ကွက်တစ်ခု မှာပဲလုပ်နေတာပါ။ ဒါ space efficient နဲ့ ပတ်သက်လို့ ချိတ်ဆက်ပေးတာပေါ့။ ဟုတ်ကဲ့ ဒီလိုမျိုးပြဿနာကိုလည်း သိပြီ အဖြေကိုလည်း သိပြီ နည်းစနစ်တွေလည်းရှိပြီ ဆိုနော့ ဒါကို ဘယ်သူလုပ်သင့်သလဲပေါ့ ကျနော်တို့ပြောကျတဲ့အခါကျတော့ ကျနော်တို့ အမှိုက်နဲ့ပတ်သက်ရင် ဒါမျိုးတွေလုပ်ရမယ်ဆိုရင် NGO တွေကလုပ်သင့်သလား အစိုးရက လုပ်သင့်သလား စည်ပင်ကလုပ်သင့်သလား ဒါမျိုးတွေလည်း မေးလာပြန်တယ်။ အဲ့အခါကျတော့ ဒီလိုမျိုးအဖွဲ့အစည်းတွေကနေ ပူးပေါင်းပါဝင်ပြီးတော့ လုပ်နိုင်ရင်လည်း ကောင်းတာပေါ့။ ဒါပင်မယ့် သူတို့မပါဝင်ခင်မှာ ကျနော်တို့ တစ်ဦးချင်းဆီကလည်း ကိုယ့်ဆီကနေ တနေ့တနေ့အမှိုက်ကထွက်တာ။ အဲ့တော့ ကျနော်တို့တစ်ဦးချင်းဆီက လုပ်ဆောင်ခဲ့ရင် ပိုပြီးတော့ ကောင်းတာပေါ့။ တချိန်မှာ အဖွဲ့လိုက်စုပြီးတော့ လုပ်နိုင်ရင်လည်း ပိုကောင်းတာပေါ့။ ဒါ့ကြောင့်မို့လို့ ဒီနေရာမှာ ကျနော်တိုက်တွန်းချင်တာက ကျနော်သိရင် ကျနော်ကနေ စလုပ်မယ်။ အကိုတို့အမတို့သိရင် အကိုတို့အမတို့ကနေ စလုပ်မယ်။

ဒိလိုအားဖြင့် ကျနော်တို့တစ်ဦးချင်းဆီကနေ ကိုယ့်ထွက်တဲ့ waste ကို လျော့ချပြီးတော့ ကျနော်တို့ရဲ့ နေထိုင်ရာပတ်ဝန်းကျင်ကို ပိုပြီးတော့ သန့်ပြန့် ပိုပြီးတော့ စိမ်းလန်းတဲ့ ကမ္ဘာတစ်ခုအဖြစ်ဖန်တီးနိုင်ကျဖို့ ကျနော်တိုက်တွန်းချင်တာပါ။ ကျေးဇူးပါ။

Bokashi at the beach

Last night the team returned from Ngwe Saung, a beautiful beach some 6 or 7 hours of shaky driving west of Yangon.

We’re feeling pretty happy, because we’ve started something there at the beach that hasn’t been done before.

We’ve helped stop the food waste at one of the biggest hotels on the beach. We’ve stopped it leaving the building, and we’ve stopped it going to landfill.

From now on it’s all going into big bokashi stacks at the hotel where it will become rich, organic compost for the hotel gardens. Perfect.

Ngwe Saung Yacht Club & Resort

We’ve been talking with the Ngwe Saung Yacht Club & Resort for some time, they really want to make a difference in their local environment, and like us are concerned about the amount of trash being dumped in the local environment.

This is a brave commitment, and one that’s badly needed.

Since Ngwe Saung opened up for mass tourism a few years ago, visitor numbers have increased steadily — but the town has no effective way of dealing with the waste.

The solution up until now is that hotels are dumping all their trash — plastic bottles, old toilet seats, uneaten meals, dry palm leaves and coconut shells, copper wires, food scraps and light bulbs — in a huge dump site just off the main road into town. Wild elephants come wandering through, sometimes.

It’s hardly a sustainable solution. But up until now, there hasn’t been an alternative either.

Strategic decision

The hotel brought us in this month to help them set up a bokashi composting system for their food waste. It’s been great. We have really enjoyed working with the hotel staff these last weeks, chefs, gardeners, housekeepers and management. Their commitment is real, even if, in the beginning, everyone was a bit nervous about dealing with this whole trash thing.

Food waste audit and training

We set up the training in two sessions of two days, with some 10 days in between. The focus of the first session was the kitchen; the focus of the second was the garden.

Our first step was to do a waste audit. How much food waste does the hotel produce? What type of food waste is it, and when and where is it produced?

A large hotel like this produces 4 to 8 tons of food waste per month, we know that from experience. But it’s hard to know exactly until you get stuck in and measure it, go through the trash bags, talk to the chefs, get a feeling for how it all works.

And food waste is not all a bad thing. So part of what we do is look at what is in the trash and why: some is uneaten food from guests, but most tends to be prep waste. Things like pineapple skins, potato and carrot peelings, egg-shells, coffee grounds, you name it.

Second step is to train the kitchen staff in waste segregation. Kitchens vary a lot, and in this case they were already doing a great job. There was very little plastic in the food waste bins already, and when the head chef found some he made his frustration very clear.

Step three was to train the kitchen staff how to transfer the food waste to bokashi barrels for fermentation. No liquids, add some absorbent material (rice bran, tissue) and layer in a liter of bokashi bran per barrel. Lid on tightly. Store in the correct spot.

The chefs are filling some five barrels per day at the moment, so the work needs to be efficient but not interfere with their daily routines. At the moment, they’re filling the barrels at the end of each shift, but this may change later, we have to just work it out.

How and why

There’s two types of training: how and why. Filling barrels is how, but the chefs also wanted to know why they should be doing this. It creates some extra work for them, and no one does that for no reason.

We gathered up all the hotel staff in two shifts for a classroom session on food waste in hotels, the impact it has on the environment at all levels. Food waste is invisible for most people: something they hardly even see, and once it leaves the building they don’t think about it. As long as the workspace is neat and tidy the job is done, right?

There’s two parts of this: one, that organic waste is NOT trash (our mantra!) and that we all have some responsibility to do the best we can with it. And that organic waste is a hugely valuable resource. That we can use it to create healthy, fertile soil. And healthy soil = healthy food = healthy people (our other favourite mantra).

Implementation and gardener training

Ten days later we returned to find 66 barrels filled with fermented food waste and nearly all of them perfect. Impressive. The staff had set up a Monday to Sunday system for storing the barrels so everyone would know what they’re doing. (The barrels need to ferment at least 7 days, so each day the gardeners will remove the barrels for that day and the chefs replace them with new ones)

We weighed the barrels, and calibrated our earlier estimates. Basically five barrels per day still, on average. The added workload is around an hour per day, filling the barrels after each shift.

The hotel has a big team of gardeners, and we trained them in two groups. They were nervous before we started. Working with week-old food waste wasn’t the job they had signed up for. And it wasn’t immediately obvious to them why organic compost should be so much better than the chemical fertilisers they’re currently using.

An hour later, everyone was more relaxed. This wasn’t at all as bad as they’d expected!

Together we built bokashi stacks from shipping pallets, they will have 20-30 of them in the end. Each stack holds a cubic meter of compost; we like the pallets because they look neat, and are so flexible. If we want to move them, we can just move them.

The teams worked together to layer up the stacks: green, brown, black as we always do. They had collected up big piles of dry leaves and grass from the grounds over the last week and were amazed how much garden waste the stacks swallowed.

This will be so good, to get the garden waste processed on the property. Until now it too has been trucked away to landfill, everyone thought it was trash. Not any more!

Teamwork

This is extra work for the gardeners too, they were a bit worried they might get an extra load they couldn’t handle. But were pleasantly surprised how quickly it went, especially when they worked together in a team with one layering up the stack and two or three team-members bringing in supplies of bokashi barrels and dry leaves.

Each stack swallows some 20 barrels of bokashi food waste and the equivalent volume of dry leaves. Takes an hour or so to fill, once everything is collected up. So yes – extra work for the gardeners, but by the end of the day they were already looking forward to getting their first compost harvest in two months time.

From then on, assuming they fill a couple of stacks per week, they will also be harvesting a couple of stacks per week. That will be black gold for them in their extensive grounds, where everything is struggling to grow in beach sand.

And, as a bonus, there will be a lot fewer truck trips up to the landfill.

Building garden beds

Compost stacks are great because they use up so many dry leaves, an eternal problem in big gardens. But there are many other ways to use bokashi; we showed the gardeners some other ways they could use the barrels in their plant nursery.

We started with setting up a soil factory for them in a big black rain barrel– the quickest of all ways to convert fermented bokashi to compost. Just mix 50:50 compost and bokashi food waste well, top with soil, and leave for a week or two. That’s it! Perfect way for them to see that this really works, but also to start creating an instant supply of ready compost for pot plants etc.

We also showed them how to build garden beds with bokashi directly. Into their raised bamboo beds (with frames of bamboo poles) we put a thick layer of dried grass. Onto this we emptied several barrels of bokashi food waste. Another thick layer of browns: dried grass was on hand so we used it. And on top, a layer of sandy soil, ready for planting.

Instant, and highly nutrient-rich, garden beds made very quickly. The pay-back will be very apparent when the tomatoes, chili and herbs grown in these beds are compared to the ones grown in the standard mix of sand, ash and fertiliser.

Outdoor classroom

The gardeners got over their fear quite quickly and started to become curious. How does this work, actually? And why is it so important that their management are insisting on them doing it?

We ran a couple of “why” sessions, the first direct in the nursery with notebooks perched on plastic jerry cans. Pragmatic!

Gardeners rarely receive much training like this from outside, we were impressed by how interested they were, and keen to learn.

How does EM work? How do you build fertile soil? Why is it better to avoid fertilisers if you can and build soil instead? What resources are there on the grounds that have never been valued before — that are not at all “trash”?

And a session on soil

They were still keen for more, so we did a final classroom session on soil, indoors, with powerpoint and all.

What is soil? Why is it important? What does organic matter do in the soil? Why do we need to give back to the soil? How is it related to climate change? What can we do to improve the situation?

And so on — what’s happening in the garden here is the micro version of what’s happening in the whole of Myanmar, what’s happening in the whole of the world. If we protect our soil, the soil will protect us.

Actually it’s that simple.

Next steps

We’ll follow up regularly now, coach as needed, sort out any teething troubles. But technically they’re already up and running, it was easier than they thought, less scary, and once they understood why it mattered, it seemed like there was a real commitment from both kitchen and garden teams.

The real payback will be in a couple of months though, when their compost comes on stream and they can start using it in the gardens. The grounds are beautifully maintained, but improving the soil will make them more fertile and everyone’s job will be easier.

What we’ve learned

From our side, we learned a few things too. We’ve worked with this bokashi thing for so long we know it works, but we learned to appreciate and understand the fear that people have of change, of working with trash, of potentially getting a lot of extra work. For them, it’s all completely new and untested. Stressful.

We gained a deeper respect for good leadership. The management at NSYC are impressive: committed and professional. This is new for them too, but they made it happen, had the teams working really effectively, and made it clear that this was non-negotiable. Food waste is now history at NSYC.

We realised the value of sharing both hands-on knowledge and deeper explanations. The how, and the why. It really helped people feel more motivated when they understood the back story, that this was something bigger than they are, and that they are part of a big global awakening related to soil, food waste, and climate change.

And we appreciated that good training takes time. It’s not worth rushing through something like this. We want people to understand what they’re doing, learn the new habits while we’re still there, have time to think and discuss between themselves and ask questions. To feel comfortable and supported.

So this is how we will work in future, too.

And we are so very happy to have started this first project at Ngwe Saung beach with total commitment from the whole team on both sides.

This needs to work, for our shared future.

/Bokashi Myanmar team

Read more!  Hotel food waste is history

Our future up in smoke?

Myanmar text? Turn on the subtitles in YouTube!

The theme for World Environment Day this year was air pollution. A HUGE subject that gets way too little attention. Which is really a pity. Maybe that will change now?

There are so many aspects of it that it’s hard to know where to start. But one central part of the problem, in Myanmar and neighbouring countries, is the terrible damage caused by burning leaves. Especially when they are burnt together with plastic.

The air smells terrible, people are choking on their way to work, children are coughing during their lessons. People get sick and, actually, we have no idea about the long-term health consequences.

The smoky air of Inle Lake

At Inle Lake, where our team spent some time recently talking to restaurant owners and others in the tourism industry, there are other consequences too. Smoke and smell and toxic air hardly go hand-in-hand with attracting tourists.

They want help from us to find new ways of working with dry leaves. Part of the issue is that people just don’t know what the alternatives are. Are there any?

Of course there are! Dry leaves are a fabulous base for any form of compost. Plants love to grow in them. They are a valuable part of the carbon cycle. And they should be used.

So, how?

We made this short film for them that they showed on World Environment Day – and others have been spreading it further, which we’re happy to hear. The message is there are ways to use dry leaves in a simple way that can be handled on any street corner, suburban block, in any hotel garden or urban park.

Burning leaves with plastic is toxic!

It’s not hard — the issue, as always, is knowledge and methods.

These are things we know about at Bokashi Myanmar, after all it’s our work. We collect huge amounts of dry leaves every dry season to use in our composting process, and we have developed a few different ways of using them on different scales. Part of what we do is run training courses to share this knowledge (if you’d like to come to our bokashi yard with your team and learn, please contact us)

Making compost from dry leaves

Our basic method of dealing with leaves and food waste on a larger scale is our bokashi compost stacks, you can read more about how to make them here. But we’ve also made leaf gardens as shown in the film using stacked bricks and a lot of leaves. Plants love to grow in these, and they are very quick and easy to build. All you need is leaves!

Another solution, that we have yet to document, is the triple cube: basically a set of three compost cubes made from shipping pallets in the same style as we do in the bigger yard. Cube #1 is used to store leaves throughout the season. Cube #2 is used to make bokashi compost as described in the previous link. Cube #3 is used to make a second round of bokashi compost while the first is maturing. And so it goes on. Simple and effective, and not big on space. Try it! Or come to our yard and we will show you.

The triple cube – leaves in the first cube, bokashi compost in the two others.

Why do people go on burning leaves?

Tradition, mainly — and lack of alternatives. There is some misunderstanding that the CO2 generated from burning leaves is good for trees, after all they breathe in CO2 and breathe out oxygen. Not correct, obviously, but a persisting fallacy.

Sweeping up plastic into the leaf pile is a convenient way of cleaning, and speeds up the combustion process. But it makes the already unhealthy air downright toxic. Plastic should obviously be separated, even if it’s an inconvenient work, and sent to landfill. Leaves should be composted and returned to the soil.

Many landfills won’t receive garden waste including leaves, and that is understandable given that most are facing capacity issues. But leaves left lying around on the street are likely to become homes for snakes and scorpions and that is not a good option. Dry leaves in dry season won’t break down on their own and it’s hard to compost them. But by keeping them wet (as in our brick garden above), nature will do most of the work. And by adding food waste in the form of bokashi, you not only help them break down quickly, you get an incredible space efficient and nutrient-dense form of compost. The best there is, actually. Just made from what you have lying around. Trash.

We are more and more convinced our mantra of “organic waste is not trash” is like a beacon for the future. It’s really needed to make this change, and set a new course for the future. The current course really doesn’t hold. Time to think new and start to get this right.

/Jenny and the Bokashi Myanmar team

Waste, according to the UN.

Open waste burning and organic waste in landfills release harmful dioxins, furans, methane, and fine particulate matter like black carbon into the atmosphere. Globally, an estimated 40 percent of waste is openly burned. The problem is most severe in urbanizing regions and developing countries. Open burning of agricultural and municipal waste is practiced in 166 out of 193 countries.

Improving the collection, separation, and disposal of solid waste reduces the amount of waste that is burned or landfilled. Separating organic waste and turning it into compost or bioenergy improves soil fertility and provides an alternative energy source. Reducing the estimated one-third of all food that is lost or wasted can also improve air quality.

Source: https://www.worldenvironmentday.global/what-causes-air-pollution#waste

Hotel food waste is history!

Want Myanmar text? Turn on “subtitles” in YouTube!

Last week we took part in the Food & Hotel Myanmar expo in Yangon, a huge event with hundreds of chefs vying to be the best. The hotels, restaurants and resorts of Myanmar were gathered in the huge venue to soak up the inspiration — get new ideas and make new contacts.

Watching these chefs at work was amazing! 400 of them were competing in the 6th Myanmar Culinary Arts Competition, producing some spectacular dishes. But not only did we get to watch, we were invited to take part and support them.

Our Bokashi Myanmar team was there from early in the morning to late in the evening doing what we do best – collecting food waste. We put one of our trademark blue barrels at every work station, and trained the chefs how to put all their scraps into the barrel. Maung Nan, Inda and Aye Aye from our team kept the process running smoothly, coaching them, checking the barrels, adding bran.

And in the case of Aye Aye, sampling everything that was on offer!

It worked surprisingly well! We provided plastic rubbish bags for plastic and other rubbish, but in a competition like this there are huge amounts of food waste (the best part of a ton over three days, 46 barrels). And ALL of the food waste ended up in our bokashi barrels.

The chefs were amazed, and surprisingly supportive. We were worried we would be getting in their way, adding to their workload and complicating things. But quite the opposite, in fact.

Apparently this is a world first. We got some excellent feedback after the event from Tony Khoo, Chief Judge at the event on behalf of the World Chefs Association. Immediately afterwards he wrote:

I have not seen in any salon culinary competition which I have judged around the world where there is a waste organic blue bin for competitors to throw away their trimming waste and this will be turned into recycle food fertilizer organic waste.

We’re excited about this, as it means our concept of managing food waste and turning it into high quality soil is a winner. It fits perfectly with the vision of the world chefs association to work for Zero Hunger and Zero Food Waste. They want to take this concept further, out into the world. Makes us happy!

How we will commercialise this vision and get the hotels of Myanmar to support it is another story. Collecting food waste bokashi-style is not the least complicated, but it can’t be done for free (transport! handling!). Currently, food waste collection in Yangon is more or less invisible: hotels, restaurants, companies of all sorts, simply throw out their rubbish, YCDC collects it, it disappears.

Costs nothing.

Landfill fires

But even if the real cost is hidden from the books, it is very real in daily life. All waste from YCDC is trucked to one of the landfills around the city and dumped. No sorting, no methane management, no modern handling at all.

This is how you build a methane bomb. And occasionally it ignites.

Untreated organic waste decomposes badly. It doesn’t make soil, it does not make compost, it becomes a toxic mess that creates the worst possible greenhouse gases. This is because the immense piles of it prevent it from decomposing in a healthy way.

The anaerobic decomposition creates methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide. The gas builds up deep down in the landfill mountain, so that if a fire starts it is enormously difficult to put out.

Fires like this are obviously terrible for the environment. They are also devastating for the people of Yangon, and every other city in the country that burns their waste intentionally or otherwise. These fires cause health issues that can’t be repaired.

Zero food waste

So how can the hotels of Myanmar help?

Hotels produce huge amounts of food waste — a five-star hotel with three or four restaurants will generate five to eight tons per month. TONS PER MONTH.

And at the moment, all of it will end up at landfill. Where it will rot and smell, but even worse produce methane that damages the atmosphere and causes people to be sick.

No single hotel can of course save the world, but every one of us has a part to play. We can stop food waste at source by finding smarter ways to use it in the kitchen. We can see to it that the food waste is diverted from landfill and is instead made into valuable soil.

Doing this – making fertile soil from food waste – completes the circle beautifully. It means that old food is used to form the base for growing healthy new food. Totally circular. And logical.

So how can we make this work?

Two ways:

  1. Food waste can be collected, in Yangon at least, by our bokashi team. We have a program for this (our Hotel Food Waste Service, see below) which makes it convenient and affordable. All food waste collected in this way becomes healthy, fertile compost that is returned to organic farms and gardens in the city. We train your staff in the segregation process but we then take care of the rest.
  2. We can also train hotel staff to process the hotel’s own food waste using our bokashi process for speedy urban compost. We run regular training sessions for this in our bokashi yard in North Dagon. This is actually the better alternative for hotels and restaurants with their own gardens, as it cuts out the transportation and helps you revitalise your own gardens.

We’re talking to a lot of hotels around the country – the interest is strong, no doubt about that. But the subject is relatively new, and there hasn’t previously been a practical solution to the enormous dilemma of organic waste. Food waste has not been high enough up on the agenda.

But now it is sailing up the list. And from our side, we are determined to offer a solution that can work for as many hotels as possible, wherever they may be in the country.

Huge problems like this aren’t solved overnight. But everything begins with a solution on one hand, and a will to change on the other.

And that’s what we are hoping will make all the difference in Myanmar.
This madness has got to stop.

/Jenny and the Bokashi Myanmar team

Want to learn more? Please contact us!

And you’re welcome to download and share our hotel food waste service brochure now!

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…

It’s now or never, right?

Exciting new projects and a new bokashi yard!

JANUARY 2019

Read about our project so far, it’s interesting! The November update here, October here, the September one here, and the back story here.

Our mantra is that organic waste IS. NOT. TRASH. 

Every day it gets clearer to us just how important that is. The streets and backyards of Yangon are filled with trash. And the tragedy is that it’s the same story every you look. In cities, towns and villages in Myanmar, and in many other parts of Asia. 

We’ve gotta do something about it. 

Here. Now. Fast.

Lots of people are talking about plastic. We’re drowning in it, and we can no longer ignore it.

Here in Yangon we’re seeing a lot of good initiatives on many fronts — Thant Myanmar is working with awareness and education, Trash Hero and Clean Green Yangon are two of many spirited groups working with cleanups, organisations like Conyat Create are working to create the conversation that for too long we’ve not been having, companies like RecyGlo are getting involved on a commercial scale with recycling. 

Brilliant. 

But it’s all about plastic (apart from RecyGlo who are working on many fronts).

And plastic, although it’s probably the most disgusting part of the waste stream, is just part of the story. 

 

Photo: Jenny Harlen
Huge amounts of organic waste are generated every day at markets all over Yangon

More to the story

 

Our story here at Bokashi Myanmar is ORGANIC WASTE. The soft, wet stuff that comes in some way from plants and food. Stuff that can perfectly well be returned to the soil, returned to nature, because that’s where it came from in the first place.

Organic waste is perfect for recycling!

It’s not complicated like plastic, that has to be sorted into many different categories before it can be recycled in the most effective way. It’s not complicated like metal, glass, batteries, electronics, building materials, that all have to be sorted and moved on to a responsible processing plant for rational and clean recycling.

Organic waste is easy. 

Everything goes back to the soil. No sorting needed, no special knowledge or technology, or advanced processing plants. 

The trick is to just give it back to the soil. 

Soil food

But NO ONE is doing this! And you can only imagine how sad this makes us. Because the soil is screaming out to be fed and we are wasting the seemingly endless supply of “soil food” that we could be feeding it with. 

Two-thirds of the waste that goes to landfill in Yangon is organic. The other one-third is non-organic, the fractions like plastic, glass, metal and so on. That’s TONS** of organic waste that ends up on the tip every day.

Another huge amount, we have no idea how much, just lies and rots at the roadside or ends up in the nearest river.

Which, even if it disappears, is absolutely not recycling. 

All of this organic waste should be used for feeding the soil.

We can do that by making compost, by fermenting and digging it down into the soil, by making organic fertilisers or liquid nutrients.

There are various options, but they are different versions of the same basic equation: what comes from the soil should go back to the soil. 

So. Why has this not been done before? Why is it not being done now?

(**2,000-3,000 tons per day, in Yangon alone)

Photo: Jenny Harlen
Making good soil is the starting point for everything

Organic waste is “too difficult”

We’ve spoken to a lot of people about this.

The general conclusion is A. that it’s too hard, and B. that no one knows how to do it. 

And making matters worse, people generally don’t see the difference between the two basic forms of waste: organic and non-organic. The first step in this process will always be to separate the two. Because the recycling approach is totally different.

Here at Bokashi Myanmar, we have a completely different mindset.

We’re not interested in sorting out the issues related to recycling plastic, glass and metal — we’ll leave that to the many experts in the field. For us it’s way too complicated anyhow. 

But we are good at recycling organic waste. In fact, we think it’s quite straightforward from a practical point of view. Logistics and education are another story, but actually making a great organic fertiliser or super healthy soil is, for us no big deal. It’s what we do.

And we really want to get the whole Myanmar involved in this part of the waste puzzle. Because it’s something we can do on every street corner, balcony, back yard, urban farm, or even “real” farm. 

Bokashi is hardly rocket science, anyone can recycle organic waste using this method, but it needs to start happening in real life.

Soon. Now. 

End of speech. How about our projects here in Yangon?

They’re going great! 

We’ve had a busy few weeks starting up new projects and moving our existing ones forward. You can read more about our waste management project in the Ward 67 community and our partnership with recycling startup RecyGlo here, in our November update. 

This month we have three exciting new stories to tell, and I want to tell you about a gourd.

 

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The RecyGlo team — daring to break new ground

School garden!

 

First story: we are starting up a school garden project at Dulwich College, one of the leading international schools here in Yangon. A very cool project, as the students (the school has all ages) already have a nice kitchen garden.

But the soil? It’s good, but it’s all been brought in from outside and needs regular fertilising. Nothing circular about that. 

Meanwhile, the school is working towards environmental certification in the form of a “Green Flag”. Recycling of dry fractions is underway and that leaves the wet. One of the teachers, Matt Grace, is now bringing bokashi into the school canteen. 

All food scraps will go into the bokashi barrel from now on, the students will learn about how this works and why it is important, and then the different classes will add “their very own” bokashi fertiliser to their class garden beds. 

So smart and inspiring. And there’s an educational angle at every turn. We’ll keep you updated how it goes! (And we have more international schools asking us to help them with this approach, makes us happy!)

 

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One of the beautiful garden beds at Dulwich College. They just need to be fed!

U Thant House, an inspirational oasis

 

One of the most respected men in Myanmar history is U Thant. He was Secretary General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971, a complex period of nation-building in which he provided a strong and clear leadership worldwide. 

His house, here in Yangon, has long been abandoned but is now being restored by a family trust into a museum and educational center: the values he most stood for are those at the core of this new museum project. 

U Thant House is an oasis! 

The garden is one and a half acres of calm and shady peace here in the middle of Yangon. Next step, now that the house is more or less renovated, is to restore the garden into a true Myanmar-style haven. With indigenous trees and plants, and a totally sustainable message running through every part of the garden.

Like everywhere else in Yangon, the soil in the garden is poor. Sandy, undernourished. Like most other parks and gardens, the garden waste has been sent off to landfill or left languishing in a corner. 

Our job, which we volunteered for within 5 minutes of visiting the house, is to help restore the soil, and to add what we can to help bring the garden to life. 

We started a few weeks ago, working with the garden team at U Thant House a day or two per week to get the ball rolling. Ultimately, we hope to be able to share the bokashi story there with visitors, show what we’re doing, talk about why this is a valuable part of the sustainability story, help them learn if they wish.

To start with, we structured up the compost yard. And had so much fun in the process! We now have a very space-effective garden compost going that will produce compost for the garden, based on our bokashi methods (there is a difference to traditional composting; it’s faster, easier and more nutrient-dense. And extremely compact).

Next step, starting this week, is to start collecting food waste from the nearby market and next door school, and start building soil for U Thant House’s new kitchen garden with that. As well as boosting the compost no end with this essentially free and very valuable addition of nutrients. 

It’s a brilliant circular story, sustainability at best, so we will work with getting it right. May take a while, but this is a fast-moving team with a lot of passion, so I suspect it will go faster than any of us think.

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Some of the team at U Thant House after one long day’s work

New bokashi yard!

Our next exciting news from these past weeks is that we think we have a new bokashi yard! Super exciting! We’re doing the last negotiations, Myanmar style, at the moment and hopefully it will all be clear this week. 

It’s close to our existing yard, totally overgrown, but is twice the size with no house. So we have lots of space to work and can start receiving organic waste from the local markets (we have two), start making bokashi, and gradually start producing some organic compost and fertiliser products for sale. 

We’ll also receive the bokashi barrels collected by our partner RecyGlo from corporates and households, swapping their full barrels with clean empty ones ready to go back to their customers for another round of food waste.

Cross your fingers this goes well! 

And we’ll tell you next time how it’s all shaping up.

 

Photo: Jenny Harlen
Our six kilo gourd, it’s a beauty!

6 kilo gourd

 

Oh, and the gourd story I promised? 

The other day we harvested this beauty. 6.2 kilos (we had a guessing competition, Inda won). It is grown in bokashi and sand and nothing else. 

Our yard is a kind of desert, like many other houses in monsoon-drenched Yangon it has a half-meter thick layer of construction sand. Infertile and hard to grow anything in. But all the bokashi we have been digging down these last months, made from waste from the local market, has paid off. We’re harvesting these beauties every few days at the moment, and handing them out to the neighbours. Because there’s only so much gourd you can eat…

They taste great!

Amazing, really

And, when you think about it, it’s kind of revolutionary. No fertiliser, no tricks. Just sand and bokashi. If we can do this, anyone can. Any old piece of land can be made fertile with the right approach. 

Which means anyone can grow food anywhere. Even in an urban desert. 

Groundbreaking!

We’re happy.

/The Bokashi Myanmar team

And! Super thanks to our colleagues at Bokashi Norway! They amazed us this year with a Christmas donation to our project that will be a huge help in renting our new yard and setting it up. We really appreciate the global teamwork, and all the heart that goes with it. Hugs to you all! 

Photo: Jenny Harlen
We work hard and we have a lot of fun here at Bokashi Myanmar!

 

Photo: Jenny Harlen
In what was once an urban desert, we’ve created a little oasis. Complete with pineapple hedge!

 

Making a garden in a swamp

Read about our project so far, it’s interesting! The October update here, the September one here, and the back story here.

New projects and  a ton of enthusiasm

Towards the end of October the monsoon peters out and finally stops. Well, there have been a few surprise storms and we’ve had to run in all directions to protect our small plants, but like everywhere else in the world, weather patterns are changing.

Foto: Jenny Harlen
On the way to our project in Ward 67 — always with an umbrella handy!

Living with a lot of rain half the year and no rain at all the other half of the year is just normal life here. Actually, there are two distinct climate types in Myanmar: here in Yangon we have the on-off monsoon climate, but in other parts of the country, further from the coast, the zones are drier. Mandalay and Bagan, two of the areas a lot of tourists visit, are part of huge regions that are more or less in permanent drought.

Either way, this puts enormous pressure on the soil. Whether it rains too much, or too little, it’s always the soil that will make the difference. A good soil, with a lot of organic carbon in it, will buffer water way more effectively than a soil with very little carbon. 

Carbon is the stuff we usually refer to as humus. 

Alive and healthy

It’s the stuff that makes soil good, gives it that special soil fragrance that you just know is alive and healthy. 

Soil doesn’t ever have as much carbon in it these days as you would think. If someone has 7 or 8 per cent that’s amazing, and kind of unheard of. Many farmers are struggling with levels of 2, 3 or 4 per cent. Or less. Usually it’s not measured and not discussed; the conversations we should be having about soil are replaced with orders to chemical fertiliser factories. 

So. Weather patterns. Climate. 

A soil with a lot of carbon can buffer water. If it rains a lot, the soil absorbs and manages the water and holds the top soil in place while the water has a chance to drain away. Strong soil like this is sort of glued together in the right way, it doesn’t just dissolve and wash away. 

A soil with a lot of carbon also drains better. And it hangs on to the nutrients that are in it. 

Foto: Jenny Harlen
Healthy soil, healthy bananas

Some parts of Myanmar have really sandy soil. That’s what we’re dealing with in Yangon. Actually, it’s not even sandy soil, it’s more like river sand. Former rice paddies have been filled with river sand to raise their levels. The sand drains well, great during monsoon, but it doesn’t hold nutrients well and is therefore not the most nutritional start for new plants. 

Other parts of the country have rich clay soil. Clay is full of nutrients normally, a fantastic resource. But clay can also be very low in organic matter, and this makes it difficult for plants to thrive. It gets waterlogged easily, and can become so sticky that it can’t breathe — hopeless for plants that need oxygen round their roots.

Adding organic material

Adding organic material to sand provides it with more nutrients. It helps those nutrients stay in place. And it gives the sand more glue to hold itself together. A good sandy soil will will drain well even if it rains a lot. But it will give plants a better base to grow in than just sand. 

Adding organic material to clay also provides it with more nutrients. And helps them stay in place. But it gives the soil a better structure, easier for plants to thrive in. It’s easier for the plants to breathe. And while the soil will still hold valuable water really well, the organic material helps it to drain better if it is too wet. 

The strange thing about this is that the solutions for troublesome sandy soil and troublesome clay soil are actually the same. Add more carbon! 

This applies just as much if you’re a gardener at home, a small-scale urban farmer, or a big-scale “real” farmer. More carbon into the soil works, every time.

So. Back to our project!

We got through monsoon and most of what we planted to test our bokashi beds is thriving. Now we have to learn how to water it every day! That at least wasn’t a concern when it was bucketing down all the time. 

Foto: Jenny Harlen
Collecting brown leaves, valuable carbon

Best combinations

One of the most important things we need to establish here in our project, before we scale it up too much, is what combinations of sand, food waste and brown waste (such as leaves and coconut husks) work best. What type of beds work best for the plants in the wet and dry season, and what is the best way of making large-scale bokashi beds: above ground or below ground? What proportions?

We have experimented with many different variations, and planted fairly randomly in everything we’ve made. We’re not professional gardeners by a long shot, but that just adds to the fun. And proves to us the value of having good soil — even if we don’t do things perfectly, our plants seem to thrive anyway, because they like the soil we give them. And if they don’t, we experiment some more, to find out what would work better. 

This is giving us a good base to stand on. 

Time to scale up and move on to the next challenges!

The two projects we’ve got going so far – our own bokashi yard and the waste management/urban farm project at Ward 67 in conjunction with the French NGO, Green Lotus are going well. We’re consolidating what we are doing and looking at ways to increase the volume of organic waste we are handling. 

Foto: Inda Cakka
Our brand new handcart!

In our own yard, the best purchase we’ve made so far was a new hand cart. Exciting! Now we can more easily collect organic waste from the nearby markets without having to involve so many trishaw guys. At this stage we’re still doing all this ourselves; soon we’ll move to a bigger yard and get some help with the daily logistics. But one step at a time.

Every Tuesday we work with the team at Ward 67, in the eastern part of Yangon (Dagon Seikkan). The women there are filling two bokashi barrels per day with organic waste from the market, we hope to increase that soon. On our Tuesdays together we empty the barrels, layering them up with brown leaves and coconut husks that they’ve also collected. Top it off with sand and wait for it to become soil. 

The women have planted roselle and other plants in one of the new beds. So far so good, they seem to be healthy. 

We do have a problem however with kids messing up. So the next step is to involve them in the project, show them what we’re doing and why, and encourage them to grow their own small plants. Maybe later, even help them to start a small garden at home. 

This part of the project is being run by our colleagues at Green Lotus, the French NGO running the overarching project in this ward. We may be good at making soil, but all the social stuff that surrounds that is rather beyond us, so we’re really happy for the teamwork. And so are they.

Next project: corporate recycling

More recently we’ve teamed up with a Yangon-based company called RecyGlo. They provide recycling services to corporate clients on a subscription basis. The company just started last year, but the two founders have strong entrepreneurial backgrounds and a lot of skills, so the business is already running strongly. 

Until now, RecyGlo has focussed on paper, plastic, metal, glass, all the usual “dry” stuff. Wet waste, organic waste, has been an impossible task for everyone up until now. In best case, organic waste is trucked off to landfill, mixed in with everything else. In worst case, it ends up on the street, or in the river. 

Anyhow, the two founders came up to see us a couple of months ago, and have been trialling bokashi with some of their corporates. It’s working for them, and this month they are rolling it out to their other clients and anyone else who may be interested. 

Foto: Diana Tobias
First bokashi delivery to RecyGlo

Quite a challenge

A challenge, and an exciting one at that. There are some pretty big question marks, obviously. Are people really prepared to pay for this service? (remains to be seen). Can they learn to fill the bokashi barrels correctly? (we will be providing training — so far we’ve made a quick and easy video to explain what to do) And: where will the filled barrels go for processing? 

This is the interesting one. Our plan is, rather soon, to get a larger bokashi yard where we can receive organic waste from various sources. If RecyGlo gets it to us, we know what to do with the rest. We’ll combine this of course with the organic waste we collect in from markets. Ultimately, we’ll produce a compost-type organic fertiliser in our process. And a method that can be scaled up or down as needed.

We’re taking a step into new territories with this. But one that makes sense to us. It’s what we have on our vision map and, like all visions, the path from A to B is not always that clear. If it was, someone would have done it before. In this case, they haven’t. And it’s up to us to find out. 

Which is quite a cool challenge, and one we’re ready to take on.

So please follow us on this journey! It will quite interesting for all of us to see where we are at this time next year. 

We’re thinking big, acting small, trying not to let fear get in the way of anything we’re doing it. We would be a good ad for Nike actually, Just.Do.It. It’s fast becoming our motto.

/Jenny and the Bokashi Myanmar team

Foto: Jenny Harlen
Kids happy to be at school

Foto: Jenny Harlen
Even the water pump was under water

Foto: Jenny Harlen
Layering carbon with fermented bokashi

Foto: Jenny Harlen
Every deep bokashi bed starts with a layer of coconut husks

Foto: Aye Aye
It’s becoming a garden

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