I recently returned to New Zealand after an incredible trip to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) to grow and share my knowledge of the innovative composting technique, Bokashi and Effective Microorganisms (EM). In last week’s blog, I shared my experiences with you after attending a mind-blowing four-day forum at the EM (effective microbes) research centre at Kyusei Nature Farm in Saraburi, Thailand.
My next stop on this epic trip was ‘Project Bokashi Myanmar’.
One of the major reasons I founded Grow Inspired is because of my passion for sharing knowledge with others. The second part of my trip took this to an entirely new level and has formed one of the most inspiring, humbling experiences of my life.
The aim of my visit was to share my knowledge of large scale Bokashi to enable the locals to grow food in sand, because they have no viable soil – just a small amount of sticky blackish/white clay under the sand. In addition, Myanmar is in monsoon 4-5 months of the year, so height and good drainage are essential.
What a great challenge.
People in Myanmar have no government assistance and work to eat and live, which is a great way to get your creative juices flowing – you simply must ‘do’ in order to survive.
Bokashi Myanmar is a pilot project in the early stages of set up in Yangon, Myanmar. Jenny Harlen from Bokashi Sweden is the amazing co-ordinator and inspirational driver of this project, with just a small team of locals and a filmmaker from Germany.
The project aims to show that growing food in any kind of environment is possible and to help set up systems for processing food waste to prevent it from entering the rivers. The kind of ground-breaking results that can be achieved in a community where everyone is motivated is just enormous.
Of course, in Myanmar there are no systems for processing plastic or food waste at all – the plastic is just dumped on the streets and down the far end of the side streets, it can be knee high…!
I began with a project at Bokashi Myanmar HQ to collect food waste to start our Bokashi system, and we literally had to go around the town balanced on the back of a bicycle with these giant bins to pick up the scraps; dust whipping our faces, dodging traffic in the intense heat and trying to hold on tight!
That day we processed over 300 litres in a space 2metres by 1metre using only sand, Bokashi, carbon and expanded EM. This week, they will be planting into this and there will be progress reports from me over the next wee while.
The waste cardboard and newspapers, cans and bottles are collected by locals who get money for these products, so if you want to use cardboard for mulch or newspaper for layering you need to pay for it. Therefore, the greatest mission in setting up the Bokashi system in Myanmar was to find a substantial and, ideally free, carbon source (brown material) to balance out the nitrogen created by making Bokashi.
The people here are so resourceful – if you require something you ask a local and they will know another local who can get it for you.
One day we went to the slums for a project to build food beds for the local community to grow in. We needed to find a reliable source of carbon within the slums, but with no available cardboard or paper, we identified discarded coconut husks as our only option to layer in the bottom of our beds and for the bottom of the Bokashi barrels to absorb the juice.
But, how do we get enough of them, we asked ourselves?
We asked a guy; who then found another local from down the street, who knew someone. Before we could figure out what was going on, a team had been sent to bring some of these coconut husks for us. Everyone down the street started coming out of their houses and talking to one another, joining in any way they could – helping to fetch more husks, digging in the sand, gathering things we needed. Their collective energy swept into a movement that morning and, within a matter of hours and with many hands, this enormous project was completed.
What we can achieve, build together and create with the powerful techniques of EM and Bokashi are never so profoundly illustrated than in the slums. We’ve all seen slums on TV – maybe many of you have seen them in person too. These communities have nothing and so everything you can give them is a precious gift.
But these communities don’t just want to take a gift hand-out; they want to learn, they want to participate, they want to help. The way this community mobilised to support a common goal and get things done was humbling and heart-warming.
I was blown away.
They showed a beautiful humanity that is sadly absent from the more developed communities we are more familiar with.
It gives me hope for the future, but also taught me that we all need to shift our own way of thinking; our approach to life’s challenges. Share, give, collaborate, learn, respect, help, grow together.
The coconut husks work amazingly well so we’ve even started a trial using Bokashi-soaked coconut husks for sowing seeds directly into and for growing microgreens. You simply have to think outside the square when resources are thin.
By the time I departed Myanmar, we had set up systems, sources and solutions to food growing and waste management that I know will continue to grow and thrive in my absence.
But I can’t wait to go back and visit again – when I have something new to share with them, and when I need to remind myself and reaffirm my beliefs that where there is a will, there will always be a way.
Happy gardening, and I hope you grow inspired