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!

 

We’re on! Bokashi Myanmar is up and running

Unknown-2.pngFOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK! “Bokashi Myanmar” 

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A lot of people are really upset about all the organic waste going to landfill here in Yangon.

Each time a council truck dumps its load of trash collected from the dumpsters of this megacity the stuff that pours out is predictable. One-third of the load is plastic and other non-degradable stuff. And the two-thirds is organic waste. 

But organic waste should never be trash in the first place!

How come so much of it ends up at the tip?

We’ve spent the last three months working with this; our plan is to spend the next years changing the situation. Here, in Yangon, initially and later in the rest of Myanmar. To be honest, the whole of Asia is screaming out for a solution, but that’s more than we can get our head around just now. 

We started Bokashi Myanmar this year with one big, wide vision. To stop organic waste going to landfill, or dumped in the river, or left to rot by the side of a road. And to start building healthy, fertile soil that can form the base for a whole new generation of urban gardening here in Yangon or any other city. 

Our project started just under a year ago — with an idea, and a fledgling team. Bokashi is the name of the method we’re using: it’s a Japanese concept, based on fermentation, proven over several decades, and a damn fine way of making soil. It’s quick, and easy, and cheap, but the best part is that it gets carbon into the soil where it belongs, and out of the atmosphere, where it doesn’t. 

How are we so sure about all this? With my team in Sweden, I have been working with bokashi for over a decade and it is a very, very good method. Just the piece of the puzzle we’ve been looking for globally in terms of sorting out waste management for the future. And regenerating soil carbon in the smartest possible way at street level. 

So a year ago we started forming our team. I’ll tell you more about who we are later (or you can check some of our earlier posts), but there are five of us, two from Myanmar and three Europeans. At this stage. Pretty soon we’ll be growing our team, plenty of people would like to work with us it seems.  

We spent a month in Myanmar earlier this year, all of us, researching the project and scoping out how to best do it. We met a LOT of people on all fronts — business, waste, community, NGO, recycling, householders — and it was totally obvious that we should take a deep breath, gather our courage, and make this project a reality. 

In July this year, we started. 

Bokashi yard

Monsoon season, obviously. The ultimate challenge in terms of making soil, starting a garden, organising anything. But we survived, and it was fine. Everything worked!

Our first step was to start a bokashi yard. A place we could have our headquarters, test all our ideas, create a demonstration site where we could show and tell and train. Produce the products we need, and start a rudimentary shop. 

Clearly, with all the rain involved, we needed a roof over our heads too. Somewhere to duck in until the rain passed, organise our production and our paperwork, and have a beer after a long days work. 

We found the perfect place — after some months of looking for something that would work at a price we could afford — in the northern outskirts of Yangon. North Dagon, Ward 45. It’s a normal house on a normal plot of land on a normal street in a suburban area. Close to the bus route but quiet as anything — birds and butterflies, nice neighbours and no cars. Ideal. We even have a bunch of wild cows that wander up and down the road foraging on the verges!

The garden was neat and nice — but basically just a yard full of sand with a few trees. The whole area used to be rice paddies once, which means it is submerged every monsoon. The problem is solved by those people that can afford it by filling their site with sand. So our yard is relatively well-drained (good!) but is basically a desert with almost a meter deep of sand (a challenge, to say the least). 

The ultimate challenge for us and our ideas, actually, as we needed to prove — quickly — that we could create fertile soil using the waste we had around us and start a garden more or less immediately. 

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Emptying yet another barrel of fermented market waste into our sandy yard. Each and every layer makes the ground more fertile.

We succeeded

We started making bokashi directly. Barrels and barrels and barrels of it. We collected organic waste from our two local markets, from our neighbours, from the fruit shop on the corner. We fermented it all. 

The process is simple, actually. We make a fermentation starter called bokashi bran out of rice bran and Effective Microorganisms (read more here) and molasses, and use that to ferment the food waste. 

We give each barrel a week or two to ferment, then dig it down. This is our basic method: the concept we plan to spread throughout the country. Collect, ferment, dig down, grow. The whole process, start to finish, takes just two or three weeks. And it is possible to handle huge amounts of organic waste in this simple way.

The fermented bokashi can be used in a number of ways. We have one method for people living in apartments, another for people living in houses with yards, another for community projects and urban farmers. 

The method we’re working with most, just now, is the latter. We’ve set up a corner to demonstrate the first two methods, but the real challenge is how to process big quantities of food waste in relatively small spaces. In effect, we are developing compost farms that can be scaled from very small scale to very big. 

Actually, we were really lucky to have a visit from a New Zealand woman, Claire Mummery, in the middle of all this testing. Clair has worked with large-scale bokashi for many years in vineyard restaurants in NZ and has developed an excellent method that she shared with us. 

It means we can get 200-300 liters of fermented organic waste down into a small area of just a couple of square meters.  Where previously we were layering with soil (or in our case, sand, as we have no soil), Claire showed us how to layer with carbon. So now we dig deep trenches a meter or so deep, and alternate layers of coconut husks, brown leaves, shredded newspaper and rice husk with our fermented organic waste, or bokashi. 

In terms of soil-building, this is optimal, as the brown materials have a higher carbon content than the fruit and vegetable waste, which have more nitrogen. We top off these deep beds, filled with the most amazing nutrients, with a layer of sand. 

One week later we can start planting. 

This is unheard of in the gardening world. 

Normally compost is something that takes months and years, not just a couple of weeks. Bokashi is fast, but the magic is that you don’t have to wait for all the materials to turn into soil before you start planting in them. The first week or so the mix is a bit acidic, but after that it’s fine — and the fermentation has prepared the nutrients in such a way that the plants can take them up immediately. 

Actually, a very convenient win-win solution. We get rid of our waste fast, and we can start growing in it fast. 

This means that the time from a pineapple or cabbage being discarded at market until a new tomato or mango is planted in the mixture is just a couple of weeks. And the new plant will have all the nutrition it needs to grow big and strong, and produce new fruit and vegetables.

Amazing. 

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Making bokashi bran. By hand, at the moment. We’ll improve our efficiency as we go.

So this is what we’re doing in our bokashi yard. 

We’re currently processing 60-100 liters of organic waste per day in our small yard. Just to see if we can, and if it works. We’ve sorted out a few deals with the cabbage guy at the market, and the coconut guy, and with the fruit woman too, and there is a squad of local trishaw riders who more than happily deliver it all to us at going rates. 

All this experimentation is giving us confidence in what we’re doing. We’re getting some good flows going, and learning how to streamline our, admittedly, small-scale process. 

Next step is to scale it up a notch. So we’re looking for a new, and bigger yard, not too far away where we can start up more of a process line. We hope to add a coconut crusher to the input end, and a roofed area where we can work, some proper space for all our incoming and outgoing materials. 

We’re arranging with companies and others to get in our raw materials — organic waste, mainly — and will develop a range of different compost and fertiliser products as our output. For people that want to do all this themselves, we will structure up our training and demos and share our methods. 

That’s our bokashi yard, version 1.0. We are really pleased, and excited about what our yard 2.0 will bring. 

Meanwhile, we have a couple of other projects underway — same idea but in communities where this type of solution is so badly needed. 

Tell you more about that in the next post!

/Jenny from Bokashi Myanmar

 

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We run our office Myanmar style. Meetings on the floor, at our low table. In our work clothes. And usually we make our guests do a bit of digging too!

Great progress!

(English version below)
က်မတို႔ပေရာဂ်တ္ပထမေျခလွမ္းေအာင္ျမင္ျခင္းအထိမ္းအမွတ္နဲ႔ဘိုကာ႐ွိျမန္မာအဖြဲ႔ေအးခ်မ္းတိတ္ဆိတ္စြာေအာင္ပြဲခံေနတာ။
ၿပီးခဲ့တဲ့ရက္သတၱပတ္အနည္းငယ္ေလာက္တုန္းက၊ေျဖ႐ွင္းစရာေမးခြန္းအေျမာက္အမ်ားရယ္၊

Bokashi at the Post-harvest technology training center

(English version below)

မႏၱေလးအျပင္ဘက္၊ထံုးဘိုမွာ႐ွိတဲ့၊ကိုရီးယားျမန္မာပါတနာျဖစ္၊ရိတ္သိမ္းခ်ိန္လြန္သင္တန္းေက်ာင္းကဘိုကာ႐ွိေရးရာကြၽမ္းက်င္သူတစ္ဦးနဲ႔..Inda..ေတြ႔ဆံုခဲ့ပါတယ္။
သူတို႔ေတြ..EM..ဆိုတဲ့အက်ိဳးျပဳအႏုဇီဝသက္႐ွိကိစၥေဆာင္ရြက္လာတာႏွစ္ခ်ီ႐ွိေနပါၿပီ။ EM နဲ႔ Bokashi ကိုစိုက္ပ်ိဳးေရးမွာအသံုးျပဳနည္းနဲ႔စိုက္ပ်ိဳးေရးဆိုင္ရာတျခားဘာသာရပ္ေတြကိုပါဒီသင္တန္းမွာသင္ၾကားေပးပါတယ္။
ေရ႐ွည္အလားအလာအတြက္က်ေနာ္တို႔ဘိုကာ႐ွီျမန္မာရဲ႕တြဲဖက္ပါတနာေတြျဖစ္လာႏိုင္ပါတယ္။

 

Inda met up with the bokashi expert at the Korean-Myanmar Partnership, Post-Harvest Technology Training Center, Htone Bo, outside Mandalay.
They have been working with EM for many years, run training courses in how to use agricultural bokashi and EM, along with many other subjects. A good partner for us in the future.
Thank you!
/Jenny

A new batch of bokashi bran

We’re doing a test production batch of bokashi bran in conjunction with Kokkoya Organics. Here Stefi, Inda and I are running through our recipes, we’re testing a few different combinations of rice bran, husk and EM to see what works best. Airtight blue barrels and a few weeks in this heat should give us a pretty good fermentation process. But everything has to be tested, it’s an interesting process.
And we really love our rice sacks!
/Jenny

#bokashimyanmar #makingEMbran30261325_2000416480223458_2508381699316614919_n

Testing bokashi buckets

Meet the lovely Aye! We’re testing different types of airtight buckets for doing kitchen bokashi, this is our latest candidate.
Amazingly enough it’s proving really difficult to source plain old airtight buckets here in Yangon. We’ve tried used paint buckets and rejected them (too hard to clean, too hard to open, too expensive (!)) and are now testing these containers. They’re not perfect but they are at least easy to open, airtight and look decent.
Meanwhile we’ll go on looking!
We’re going to test an absorbent layer of crushed charcoal in some and others with a layer of rice husk. What do you think?
/Jenny
Photo at Kokkoya Organics

Here we go!

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The team is gathered!

This is Bokashi Myanmar, along with two more soon to join.

From left, Inda, Aye, Jenny and Diana.
We’re spending the next weeks finding out everything we can related to our bokashi project — our plan is to start up for real in July or so.
Exciting? Hell, yeah!
/Jenny

Our story

MAY 2018

Bokashi Myanmar is up and running! We had a great response from our research trip in March and April this year, and everything points to bokashi having a good future in Myanmar. So we are going to make it happen.

We start for real in July this year. As yet we have no fixed location or products available for sale, but that will be the next step. We are currently running a number of test projects and these are giving us valuable information about how to develop our project. As far as the actual bokashi process goes we have years of experience, but in terms of doing bokashi in Myanmar many things are different — so we’re taking it all step by step.

Follow us here on Facebook and on our website www.bokashimyanmar.com to see how it’s all unfolding. We have some interesting and exciting years ahead of us. And please send us a message if you’d like to get in touch! /Bokashi Myanmar team

MARCH 2018

In late 2017 we decided to start a project to help make bokashi part of daily life in Myanmar.

We’re a team of five, two guys from Myanmar (Inda and Dipa), and three women — Diana from Germany, Stefania from Belgium, and Jenny from Sweden.

Bokashi is all about making food waste, any form of organic waste really, part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Bokashi makes fabulous soil. And with healthy, living soil, you can easily grow nutritious fruit, herbs and vegetables — even on street corners.

It’s still very early days for our project. But we’re getting it off to a good start now in March and April this year. The five of us are gathering up in Myanmar to find out answers to as many of our questions as possible. How and where are we going to run this project? What are the best conditions for making it work? How should we organize the setup and what resources and contacts do we need?

The need is obvious: Myanmar has very poor soil in the cities and food security and climate change are very real issues in this part of the world. Organic waste is on every street corner, every home, every field. Bokashi and EM are great methods, important tools for the future, and we have some years of experience in how they work in Europe. Much of that can be translated to any country; bokashi is already used in every country in the world, but the word needs to spread faster and far further than it is now. It needs to get real.

We’re thinking that education, hands-on demonstrations and a lot of inspiration and relentless effort will be the key to making it happen.

The challenge now will be to put all this into action, in a country which is one of the most marvelous in the world, but certainly one of the more challenging.

Join us on our journey!

/Jenny, Diana, Stefi, Inda, Dipa