In mid-January, 2016, I traveled to Yangon, Myanmar for a 2 week project; teaching Composting and Sustainable Soil Management. The host organization was a large grower’s association: Myanmar Fruit, Flower, and Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association (MFFVPA).
Two areas were selected for the teachings: in the middle of the country, near Lake Inle (4000 ft. elevation) and in Yangon (close to sea level).
The first group was composed of mostly vegetable growers; some very large scale. The second group was mostly fruit growers.
Prior to each 2 day class, I visited some of the farms, in order to observe what was being done (growing conditions and available resources): this way, I was able to tailor the teachings appropriately (to the circumstances).
For the first group, I observed some good practices, such as returning chicken manure to the fields, and some toxic practices, such as the use of Roundup (glyphosate), which is toxic enough by itself, yet made worse by a lack of “safety” equipment.
Due to the large scale of some of the farms, tractors were used, as well as some smaller scale, walk-behind, appropriately designed, equipment.
On a nearby field, was a farmer with an ox drawn, hand made wooden plow.
In both instances, the majority of the furrow making and planting was performed by numerous farm workers; mostly young women and men.
I did wonder what I had to teach these productive, commercial growers. That night, as I put together my teaching materials, it became clear to me that my gift to these growers was to present my understanding of soil ecosystems; how soil and plants have co-evolved, and that the most economical and healthy practices involve caring for, and feeding the soil micro-organisms.
The 2nd day of class went well, and many of the participants seemed happy to be introduced to a deeper understanding of the growing process (which, of itself, shows the way to good management).
We finished with a deeply enjoyable, hands-on, group project of making a first rate, compost pile, using chopped green material (including banana stems and fresh grasses) and aged chicken manure.
After visiting Lake Inle ( a World Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO Man and the Biosphere site), my interpreter and I returned (by air) to Yangon; my home base and final teaching site.
Prior to the class, I was invited to visit the 250 acre orchard of MFFVPEA’s Chairman, who practices organic methods. He and his crew had just finished the Pomolo (a large, delicious type of grapefruit) season; had hand-picked, transported, and sold (within the country), 50,000 fruit!
Needless to say, I felt right at home in this lovely, large orchard, with it’s geese working the understory, and gently rolling landscape.
The information I presented during this second (and final) two days of class deepened the understanding of the participants, most of whom practiced non-toxic fruit growing.
In general, the people are friendly, the food very good, and, for the time of year I was there, the weather delightful.
I returned to our Barefoot Permaculture site, in east Asheville, located in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina, in time for a very warm last part of winter, followed by a dry, warm early spring devolving into a relatively cold, still dry, late spring. All of which complicates successful, organic orcharding.
This, of course, informs the stuff of future writings…