UPLift--Poverty Alleviation For The Ultra-Poor

UPLift is a program designed to empower communities on the Thai/Burmese border that lack food security, opportunities for income, and education. Through the use of small grants and skills trainings, these families receive the opportunity to pull themselves out of poverty without having to rely on external aid indefinitely.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Mae Sot School Gardens--Update

Potatoes, greens and roselle intercropping at Shwe Tar Zin school

Khom Loy has recently been working on another round of migrant school garden projects in Mae Sot, Thailand, starting with Shwe Tar Zin school (for full photo album of Shwe Tar Zin's garden, click here).

The UPLift Garden program, supported by Thai Children's Trust, is designed to make a lot out of a little--in other words, using a small amount of land and limited resources to yield large amounts of healthy, nutritious vegetables for migrant students living in and around Mae Sot.  After running two successful pilots last dry season, we are back to talking to and collaborating with motivated schools.

Shwe Tar Zin, our first expansion school, consists mostly of Arakanese staff and students.  Arakan State is on the western side of Burma, on the border with Bangladesh.  Most of these families came to Thailand after Cyclone Nargis wreaked havoc on the Burmese coastline in 2008.

A lesson learned from our pilot projects was that ownership and creativity actually increase when only a small amount of land is used.  In this case, Shwe Tar Zin's staff and principal are doing a great job of fitting in a diverse and nutritious array of vegetables--including red potatoes from Arakan State!

Check out the pictures below to see the difference that one month makes.  By the end of January this garden will be in full bloom!

Mid-November, to...


Sunday, December 11, 2011

November Monthly Report

Some reflection on last month, and a sneak peak of what's coming during the holidays!

Pig Project
This pilot project uses natural farming techniques that significantly lower the costs of animal rearing, by using fermented banana stalk as feed and using other fermented inputs that improve health and digestion, particularly nutritional intake.
We finally purchased 5 pigs of a mixed breed (mix-sai paan) on Nov 4th.  We are testing this breed of pigs to see if a 100-day natural feed schedule provided by Ajan Suthat (our technical advisor on this project) will result in a weight of 90-100kg with this type of pig.  So far they have been healthy and active, but have not been eating the full amount of store feed provided by the schedule.
Banana feed was introduced in small amounts to the pig diet in late-November.  As time continues banana feed will increase until it reaches 50% of the overall feed amount.
We are continuing our search for white Duroc breed pigs.  The farm assistant at Good Morning School is soon to have a litter of piglets available, and we will attempt to purchase these if possible.

School Garden Program
It will be recalled that this program started in 2010 with 2 pilot schools, and we are now rolling the program out to another 4 schools with the aid of funding from Vitol/Thai Children’s Trust.
UPLift staff doing some surveying at Nya Li Ah Ta migrant school, Tak, Thailand.
Shwe Tar Zin, the first school project of this cold season, has continued its garden program on schedule.  After a few more incremental training sessions with the staff there, we will present a student training.
Nya Li Ah Ta and Maw Thaw Lu , 2 other migrant schools, have experienced a delay while we are discussing the garden project and its process with staff at the BMWEC school network (which coordinates donor activities among migrant learning centers).  We hope to begin these projects as soon as possible.
A return trip to the migrant school New Blood to discuss the ideal garden project (using existing land and efficient water usage as opposed to renting land further away from the school) will occur in December.
We have decided to wait on projects at Heavenly Home, Dominican and Pyi Chit schools until a more suitable date next year.  All three have existing constraints (soil quality, land availability, construction) that are being dealt with currently.
Finally, Mark and Nobel had useful meetings with Spinning Top and Mae Tao Clinic, organizations that are interested in sharing ideas and resources for empowering schools with food security needs.  We will be continuing to meet with them to discuss possible ways in which to create both an agricultural NGO network and to continue the migrant school NGO network meetings that Khom Loy has hosted this year.

Black Soldier Fly (BSF) production unit
BSF production is of great interest to us as the larvae, which can be produced with food waste, are very high in calories and make ideal fish food.
After working with staff from Partners Relief and Development in Mae Sot, our staff member Kaw Maw Taw was able to construct our first BSF unit, which cost under 280 baht (USD$9).  He delivered it along with an introductory training to Principal David from Agape school, who is currently testing it to see if BSFs can be harvested in Agape’s area.

Project Inspire Landfill Project
Project Inspire, a women’s empowerment program founded by UN Women and Mastercard, recently awarded Khom Loy Foundation and Room To Grow Foundation a financial literacy project grant to continue their existing success in assisting women living in a landfill community near Mae Sot, Thailand.
Wide Horizons students manage a market simulation that stresses budgeting and savings plans

A lot was achieved during November for the PI project.  Khom Loy and Room To Grow provided the first financial literacy training to students from Wide Horizons project management school, who will in turn serve as trainers on the landfill in January.  In addition, these Wide Horizons students delivered a practice training to students from another post-10 school in order to gain experience and practice training skills as discussed by Jen from Room To Grow.
One group of Wide Horizons students will also attempt to deliver one or all of these trainings to a group of migrant women living in Mae Pa community with whom they are currently spending time with.

Break The Silence (BTS)—Child Protection Program
Originally designed by Stairway Foundation in the Philippines, BTS uses animations and capacity building to strengthen organizations that work in areas where children have a high risk of sexual abuse and trafficking. Funded by ADM Capital Foundation, Khom Loy has been assisting with planning and implementation for regional trainings in Thailand.
A youth singing contest and theater on World Children's day, organized by Burma ACT and HREIB
In November we continued the conversation with local contacts about setting up a permanent child protection initiative in Mae Sot, Thailand.  This would improve access to knowledge for organizations who work directly with children or with at-risk migrant communities.  We will post updates as this activity progresses.
On November 20 (World Children’s Day), Mark visited a play performed by United Act, a theatric group that focuses on spreading awareness of social issues.  Members of United Act attended a BTS introductory training in August, and adapted some of its concepts into its newest play covering the issue of human trafficking.
Mark attended an INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Program in Singapore from 28 November to 2 December.  The course provided courses and case studies on innovation, team-building, managing social enterprises and financing social ventures.  As a result, UPLift has improved management skills and abilities, as well as a network of successful social entrepreneurs from other countries.

Paul Hancock, Damaris Lynchao and Natchakarn Si Ayutthaya (KLDF staff).

·         Successfully completed the financial literacy training at Wide Horizons, which is the most difficult of the project in whole.
·         Bought pigs!  The pigs haven’t died after a month!  Did I mention that we have pigs now?

·         Launching garden projects in a timely fashion (pending discussions with BMWEC)
·         Creating staff autonomy (currently being addressed with skills learned from INSEAD program, as well as input from Paul Hancock)

Next Month’s Activities
  • Monitoring BSF pilot at Agape School
  • Continuing research on evaporation reduction for BHSOH school water reservoir
  • Researching and setting up “duck litter” project @ Hway Ka Loke school (when possible)
  • Surveying garden schools: New Blood (second visit), Heavenly Home (to discuss steps needed before beginning project next year)
  • Supporting Wide Horizons staff and students for a possible financial literacy training opportunity in Mae Pa community
  • Initial location/demographic survey of landfill community to determine 5 training areas
  • Continue to look for suitable land
  • Visiting Global Neighbors to discuss use of land for banana farm/pilot projects
  • Researching the state of food waste disposal in Mae Sot, as well as determining which entity is responsible for transporting waste in the area
  • Launch a December ag school network meeting

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Project Inspire Diary--Parts I And II

The UPLift Initiative, having recently been awarded the Best Financial Literacy Project grant by Project Inspire, has been participating in a separate blog to discuss progress thus far!

Part I, which explains the first month of the project, can be found here.

Part II, a description of our financial literacy modules in action, is here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New Pigs, New Project Idea

The newest additions to  UPLift

On Wednesday Kaw Maw Taw (who works on the UPLift agriculture projects as a field officer) located and purchased five pigs, thus beginning the rearing phase of the Pig/Compost Project at Hway Ka Loke School in Mae Sot, Thailand.

The pigs are of mixed breed ("mix-sai-paan" in Thai), and are between 1 and 1.5 months old.  The initial weight estimate is at 10 kilograms (22 pounds) per pig.  After an initial week of low feed amounts, we will begin testing a high-protein diet that uses a mixture of store feed, fermented banana stalk and liquid microorganisms.  The amount of banana stalk used increases as the pigs age, reducing the cost input needed for food while giving the pigs added nutrients and improved health.

Meanwhile, Kaw Maw Taw has been learning about raising black soldier fly larvae, a very inexpensive and consistent source of protein for feeding fish and chickens.  Partners' Relief and Development, a collaborating organization, has built a larvae "house" and is successfully breeding the larvae by mixing their food waste and other organic materials every day.  The larvae consume this waste very rapidly, and upon reaching full maturation climb out of a pipe in the unit and are ready to be fed to fish at Partner's farm site in Mae Sot.

Larvae "house" at Partners farm site

Black soldier fly larvae

Since we have surveyed numerous Burmese migrant schools with fish projects, our new goal is to learn the process of building and maintaining these units, and then sharing this technology with interested schools.  During the upcoming week Kaw Maw Taw will be building our first unit.   

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October Monthly Report

Rainy season is over! Here is a review of our activities in October--

Pig Project

With rainy season ending mid-month we were able to complete several stages of the project, including completion of the pig pen (filled the litter back to a level that eliminated flooding) and finishing the liquid indigenous microorganisms (IMOs).  The search for appropriate white pigs of Du Loc breed turned out to be quite difficult…the best source we found ended up to have a disease that, when combined with the deep-litter project, results in high rates of fatality for the pigs.  Because of this, we are now buying a small batch of black pigs to test the feed regimen on, since black pigs are less susceptible to disease and more popular among Burmese and Karen.  When another batch of white pigs become available (Nov/Dec) we will raise them side by side in the pen and make a comparative study using the same feeds.

School Garden Project

Mark and Kaw Maw Taw surveyed three schools: Shwe Tar Zin, Bwe Ka Lar and Heavenly Home.  Shwe Tar Zin is by far the best fit, and we have begun the planning phase of the project with principal and staff.  We are visiting Heavenly Home again this week to speak with the female manager.

Landfill Income Generation Projects

Very positive news from the vegetable project as Mya Thin has turned a month of growing into a great batch of produce (see photos here).  An initial 500 baht of seed funding has already yielded 400 baht of income, and there are still 3-4 months of production for the crop.

Project Inspire Landfill Project

Mark and staff from Room To Grow Foundation have been finalizing the Project Inspire Social Entrepreneurship program that we earned a $10,000 grant for in August.  The plan will involve training Burmese post-10 students @ Wide Horizons (WH) Project Management School on how to deliver financial literacy modules to women and girls living on the landfill.  We will then follow up with the ten most creative and motivated of these women to create small social entrepreneurships that improve household income as well as quality of life on the landfill.  The funding arrives first week of November, and the project will last until December 2012.

Khom Loy Foundation Video

Antony Reick, a filmmaker who is volunteering to make a promotional video for Khom Loy, visited Mae Sot with Bruce Kennedy (a KLDF board member) to take some footage about our projects here, including the landfill project, garden project, pig project and Montessori expansion project.  After editing and adding narration, the video is nearly finished.

Break The Silence (BTS) Child Trafficking Initiative Activities

  • Met with Doug from Partners to discuss progress on the Shan Red Leaves Falling video (now finished voiceovers, currently editing)
  • Met with Myo Min to discuss updates for BTS Mae Sot


·         Upland Holistic Development Project—spoke with staff and manager (Tui) about pig rearing, banana planting and low-cost feeds.

·         Partners Mae Sot Farm—discussed their experiences raising black pigs in a deep-litter, black soldier flies, and water systems for a pig pen.

·         Partners Chiang Mai (BTS checkup, mentioned in BTS section above)

·         Fang Valley Network Meeting--Mark attended the Fang Valley Network meeting on October 29, at which he shared ideas and project activities with other groups in attendance.

A container used for rearing Black Soldier Fly Larvae, a great source of inexpesnive protein for animal rearing.


·         Antony Reick/Bruce Kennedy (2 days)

·         Montessori Staff (3 days)

·         Paul/Norm (2 days)


·         Completed pig pen/IMOs

·         Helped complete KLDF video

·         Kaw Maw Taw starting to take Garden Project responsibility


·         Finding appropriate pigs to purchase for project

·         Coordinating time commitments between multiple projects

·         Finding suitable land for use w/ landfill families and farming pilots

Next Month’s Activities

  • Black Soldier Fly Workshop for Kaw Maw Taw @ Partners Farm
  • Setting up Black Soldier Fly pilot @ Sky Blue School
  • Supporting an additional 100 banana trees @ BHSOH School (using new planting method learned from UHDP)
  • Purchasing black pigs, testing speed of growth on high-protein diet
  • Researching and setting up “duck litter” project @ Hway Ka Loke school
  • Surveying garden schools: Maw Thaw Lu, Nya Li Ha Ta, Heavenly Home (second visit), New Blood (second visit), Dominican
  • Implementing garden project @ Shwe Tar Zin, 2 other schools pending survey
  • Coordinating a BTS visit to Mae Sai for visiting local organizations there
  • BTS meeting with Room to Grow and Burma Border Projects to discuss child protection activities in Mae Sot
  • Beginning Project Inspire program by training Wide Horizons students 7Nov-16Nov
  • Visiting Mae Jo University, Partners Farm Chiang Mai, ECHO organization, and frog-rearing project in Chiang Mai
  • Visiting Global Neighbors to discuss use of land for banana farm/pilot projects
  • Attending Social Entrepreneurship Training @ INSEAD Singapore campus 28Nov-2Dec

Friday, October 21, 2011

Flood Update

Flooding in Central Thailand (picture from CNNGo.com)

Thailand has been in the news recently as some of the strongest flooding in the past 40 years has been occurring.

While our work area in Mae Sot has not been hit directly, there are some concerning factors to consider for the near future, especially for migrant schools on the Thai/Burmese border:
  • With such a large area of agricultural production marred by the flooding, food prices have begun to rise sharply.  This includes rice, vegetables, meat, and other staple foods.  Migrant schools already struggling to find funding for school meals will find it considerably more difficult over the next year.
  • Agricultural inputs like animal feed and garden supplies will also increase in price.
  • Migrants who work at factories in Central Thailand and Bangkok have been returning to Burma via Mae Sot over the past week.  Some of these workers have family in Mae Sot and decide to stay, which could increase the # of students and overall migrants in the area.

Thailand has been struck by large-scale flooding for two years straight now.  If this trend is to continue, UPLift's goal of assisting migrant schools to become more self-reliant for food and funding is becoming a priority.

We have plans to work with schools on eight new garden projects and additional animal rearing projects over the next year.  It is our hope that these students, teachers and schools benefit by having a more stable environment for food production; ultimately, children having sound educations and full bellies is well worth it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Women's Entrepreneurship Program Set to Begin

We are very happy to announce that the UPLift Project is now beginning its program to set up small businesses with female entrepreneurs living in poverty.

As mentioned on previous posts, Khom Loy teamed up with Room To Grow Foundation to compete in "Project Inspire", a contest set up by UN Women (Singapore) and Mastercard to address women's empowerment and entrepreneurship.  As a result of our efforts we received a US$10,000 grant to begin a Financial Literacy program with impoverished women living in a landfill community on the Thai/Burmese border!

Since having planned for a project to cost US$25,000 and last two years did not match with our grant, we have spent the time after the contest to improve and adjust our project in order to provide maximum benefit to women in need at a lower cost, while still maintaining all of our original objectives.

The old project idea involved opening a Women's Resource Center near the landfill where women could generate daily income while receiving financial literacy and life skills trainings.  Through these trainings, UPLift would then  choose ten high motivated and inspiring women, and help each set up a small social enterprise that could provide them with increased income while simultaneously addressing social needs on the landfill.  In addition, we added the goal of having 15 young girls having the financial freedom to attend a nearby migrant school.

The new project idea, while not including land and a center, has much more flexibility, includes double the number of beneficiaries and leaves Mae Sot with a large number of young and capable trainers that can share financial literacy skills with impoverished women in their future communities and jobs.

We will begin by training 24 young adults at a nearby project management school named Wide Horizons on how to become financial literacy trainers themselves.  These individuals are already receiving the education and skills needed to successfully run programs with Burmese and ethnic minority communities, and their capacity to do so will improve after learning more about financial literacy.

Our new project plan spreads knowledge and capacity to a much wider audience!

Our 24 trainers will then work not only with the landfill community, but also a nearby migrant community that they are already working with.  This doubles the # of women receiving these financial literacy skills, and gives UPLift a larger pool of motivated and creative women to work with on small social entrepreneurships.  Finally, the 24 trainers, upon  finishing their work at Wide Horizons, then return to their respective development organizations in Thailand and Burma, where they will have the capacity to design similar programs intended to empower women and improve knowledge.

We are very motivated to begin, and will keep you updated as the project unfolds. Wait until you see the results!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Project Update--The Pigs Are Waiting

Dirty work underway at Hway Ka Loke school, Mae Sot
The past month has been full of learning curves for the UPLift Pig/Compost project--preparing for a pig rearing project that uses low-cost inputs like fermented banana stalk feed and powerful microorganisms harvested locally, we have been fighting through rainy season to get everything ready for the pigs to arrive in October.  See what we've been doing below, and for the full photo update click here!
Students lending a hand...well, their feet, by crushing eggshells for use in a calcium concentrate
Our completed work area, with pig pen sticking out amongst the banana trees
Harvesting bananas for students, and trimming down the cluster of stalks

One teacher has been doing a great job of keeping rosella and young banana trees healthy during the rains
Speaking of rain, it has been the heaviest season in the past few decades, which can be seen by looking at our original deep litter above.
...however, we have been refilling the deep litter with soil, sacrificing some volume for a dry and effective space for the pigs
Students and staff help to prep a fermented concentrate that provides large amounts of nitrogen for pigs and vegetables alike

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pig Project Update--IMO Workshop

Ingredients for Fermented Fruit Juice, or FPJ

The UPLift Pig/Compost project pilot is still going strong in Mae Sot, Thailand  The system of raising pigs on a mixture of banana stalk, dry feed and homemade microorganism concentrates is moving on to its second phase--teaching both teachers and students at Hway Ka Loke Migrant School how to make "IMOs", or indigenous microorganisms.

These microorganisms are to be used in several ways:
  • to enhance the feed of the pigs by providing stronger and more appropriate bacteria to the stomachs of the pigs
  • to break down the banana feed mix into simple nutrients, so that pigs can digest more nutrients than when eating store feed
  • to break down existing deep-litter materials into organic matter and compost, so that the school can use or sell up to a ton of rich compost per year
Our staff began the workshop last week by introducing a few basic processes for making these IMOs, of which there are seven in total for use in the project.  Take a look!

Students and teachers prepared ingredients for an IMO that promotes stomach health (for pigs as well as humans!)

Morning glory and sugar will be fermented to create a liquid used to water pigs, as well as increase nitrogen and potassium levels in the school's vegetable patches

Finished IMOs in the fermentation process

Monday, August 29, 2011

UPLift Project Wins Grant from Project Inspire

UPLift is happy to announce that we have won a USD$10,000 Financial Literacy grant from UN Women and Mastercard! Last week was spent in Singapore making our pitch for an innovative and inspired idea to work with disadvantaged women from the Mae Sot landfill community.
Our project will combine an effective training course, an income generation activity and a social enterprise program so that women can begin small business that address social needs on the landfill reward women for their motivation and creativity.
Special thanks to both UN Women and Mastercard for holding the event, and giving us the chance to make a lasting impact in the lives of women that currently make less than $2 a day. Updates will continue!
Another belated thanks to all of the other participants--coming from places like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Ghana, these young and motivated people inspired us and showed us that there great and effective ideas for empowering women. Congratulations to all!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Competing at Project Inspire

This week we are competing at the Project Inspire finals in Singapore! Organized by UN Women and Mastercard, Project Inspire gives a US$25,000 award to the team with the best plan for empowering women. For more information, visit the Project Inspire website here.
Mark is travelling to Singapore to present on Wednesday to represent our team, which includes both Khom Loy Foundation and Room 2 Grow Foundation from Mae Sot, Thailand. Updates to follow this week.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Good Advice

A big thanks to Ajan Boonsong for stopping by our pilot project at Hway Ka Loke learning center in Tak province to check in and give some words of advice for the ongoing construction of our pig pen there!

Ajan Boonsong is the manager of a sustainable farm test site for Partners' Relief and Development, an organization that has actively worked with Khom Loy over the past few years in the fields of education and training on the Thai-Burmese border. Partners' focuses on projects with ethnic minorities from Shan State, Burma on both sides of the border.

One thing that caught his eye at our pig pen was the large amount of water still collecting in the pit, even after the roof has been built. He mentioned that when he first began experimenting with deep-litter pig rearing that he had also dug a full meter deep into the ground, as is recommended.

However, in some flat areas the water table level (below ground) is too high and will inundate the deep-litter with water, especially during rainy season. This results in a miserable environment and poor sanitation for the pigs themselves.

His suggestion was to refill 20-30 cm of the pit with soil, and then compensate for this loss in volume by increasing the height of the concrete perimeter by one row of blocks. This will allow us to fill the litter material above ground level.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Starting the Pig/Compost Pilot Project!

This week, Hway Ka Loke Learning Center and the UPLift Program began work on our first Pig/Compost Project in the Mae Sot area.  This project is designed to give migrant schools and families on the Thai/Burmese border more access to income generation opportunities, and to become more self-reliant! (To view the full photo album, click here.)

Work began on Wednesday, when the assistant principal of the school joined Mark and our newest staff member on digging the perimeter of a one-meter deep litter, and doing their best to clear the top layer of soil and grass. 

Thursday provided some more progress:

...and then Friday just happened to be a school holiday, which meant that some of the older students interested in agriculture were available to give some assistance!

Work should finish on Saturday, and we can move on to the next step--planning and constructing the walls and roof.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Pig Rearing for Burmese Migrant Schools--Project Update

Staff and Volunteers at New Life
This week Mark visited New Life Foundation in Chiang Rai in order to learn more about organic farming and to meet another specialist in the area of deep-litter pig rearing.  As a result, our Pig-Compost pilot project is set to begin in Mae Sot next week. (For photos of Mark's visit click here.)

New Life Foundation is a recovery center for those dealing with drug addiction issues.  UPLift first met New Life staff during a Natural Farming training we attended together in March.  Julien, the current manager of New Life, has recently begun a revamping of the site's farmland in order to generate income on a larger scale in order to self-fund their operations.

To do this, New Life is working alongside Ajan Suthat, a former chemical engineer who has recently found a passion for organic farming.  Compared to other teachers and programs on the topic of Natural Farming, Ajan Suthat uses a more scientific, data-based approach to refine pig rearing, organic farming, and compost production in order to help impoverished families learn how to do these things for themselves.

Ajan Suthat (center) working with New Life employees

With his methods for improving pig feed, raw material inputs and overall pig health, UPLift's pilot project in Mae Sot will improve considerably, most notably the reduction of time needed to increase a pig's weight to 100kg (our previous estimate of 5 months has reduced to 3 months).

Speaking of the pilot project at Hway Ka Loke school in Mae Sot, we will sit down with the school staff and begin the planning process next week!

5 Minutes to Change the World, and How We're Doing It!

Last week, UPLift and Room 2 Grow staff completed their video entry for the Project Inspire competition, sponsored by the UN Women's Organization and Mastercard.  This competition gives a $25,000 grant to the group with the best plan for improving women's lives through social entrepreneurship and financial literacy.  Check out the video above!

As you know, over the past year UPLift has been working with a number of families on a city landfill near the Thai-Burmese border in Tak province, Thailand to help increase their food security and income through a variety of pilot projects.  Two of these projects have proven themselves to be lasting, effective, and most importantly drawing the interest of other families on the landfill.  With this in mind, Paul Hancock from UPLift realized that women have been responsible for our most effective pilot projects and have the power to change the status quo on and around the landfill.

Now that we wish to scale up our activities to include other families, having a grant opportunity such as this that matches our goals is fantastic, and we are "inspired" to continue our work in this area.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Income Generation on the Landfill--June Update

Since February we have been working with motivated women on a landfill near the Thai-Burmese border in Tak province to start a rugmaking venture.  Given the low incomes garnered by day labor and picking recyclables there, having a new source of income would be a great way to break the current cycle of poverty there. 

After providing training and materials for an initial workshop, one pregnant woman named Thin Thin Khaing picked up the idea and began making large numbers of rugs, using materials found on the landfill! (see previous blog post from Izara Arts here)

After three months of dedicated work, Thin Thin has made over 100 rugs and has sold 62 of them.  This has provided her family with an additional 1,240 Thai baht of income ($38 USD)...considering that entire families sometimes make 50 baht per day in the landfill, this supplemental business has given her more financial flexibility, as well as prestige within the landfill community.  In fact, several other women have seen her success and are now interested in weaving rugs as well!  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Banana Tree Workshop

An UPLift workshop was held this week at Future Garden Learning Center in Tak province on best practices for planting healthy banana trees (they're not actually trees, but are referred to as such)!  In attendance were staff and students from six Burmese migrant schools: Hway Ka Loke, Sky Blue, BHSOH, Nam Tok, New Blood and Future Garden. (For more pictures, visit our photo album).

Why focus on banana trees?  This is important to us, as our upcoming pig/compost program in Mae Sot depends on a large source of banana stalk to use as fermented food.  Using a cheap resource such as this reduces the cost of pig food to as little as 3 baht per kilogram, yet still results in rapid weight gain and health for pigs.

Everyone has their own way of planting bananas. Our goal was to simplify this to one best method.

However, while looking for a simple answer for planting a healthy tree we ran into a multitude of answers.  Beyond a general suggestion of using quality soil and planting during the hot season, nothing surfaced as a concrete answer.  We solved this by:
  • having each of the schools share their experiences for planting banana trees
  • finding similar steps from each experience
  • debating differences in opinion and coming to a consensus for one best practice
  • discussing lessons learned from past mistakes/how to avoid those mistakes

And who would have thought that people are so heated when it comes to defending their agricultural prowess!  At one point two of the participants were yelling across the table at each other...fortunately for us, by the end of the day we all had agreed on one method that should result in strong, fully-grown banana trees:
  1. Dig a hole 9 inches in depth.
  2. Slice off the outer layers of a large banana root to expose the insides.  Meanwhile, using a diagonal cut, chop the stalk to a height of 2-3 feet up the stalk (but below the area with leaves).
  3. Plant banana stalk; mix removed soil with rice husk and return, compressing firmly around the stalk.
  4. Cover area around the stalk with 1-2 kg of compost/manure.
  5. Water thoroughly every 2-3 days.

Students working on some practical experience

 We then planted two example trees for practice.  With all of this information fresh in mind, the schools will return home and get to work on a goal of 90 banana trees planted in total before rainy season begins.  This ensures that they will have enough raw materials to begin raising pigs by the end of rainy season!

Do you have any opinions or input on how to grow banana trees?  Let us know at uplift.khomloy@gmail.com .

Friday, April 29, 2011

April Activities--Banana Chopping and Mae Sot Visit

Flowers, veggies and compost at BHSOH School

In preparation for upcoming sustainable school projects UPLift staff has been surveying schools and testing inexpensive methods for raising pigs and making natural fermented food.  The past week has been packed with new experiences!

On Monday we visited a local equipment producer in Chiang Rai province who had agreed to create a prototype banana stalk processor that is powered by a bicycle setup.  This eliminates the need for purchasing an engine and the utility costs involved.  This setup costs 8,000 Thai baht, compared to 18,000 baht for the engine-powered conventional version.

We arrived in Mae Sot on Monday evening and began surveying migrant schools and checking up on schools that we already have projects with.  A new school, Future Garden, has a great principal and staff but is located on a very poor-quality piece of land.

We are working with them to create the ultimate success case--turning an almost useless piece of land into a thriving agricultural center for creating income.  The skill and motivation is already there, so we want to see what happens when Future Garden is given the chance to try new things and create their own source of school income.

We also visited BHSOH, one of the largest migrant schools here in Mae Sot.  The school has recently moved to a very large piece of land with adequate soil...however, there is a problem: There is little or no water here!  In order to expand beyond dependence on the monsoon season rains, the school has dug a new pond and sunk a deeper well (since their current well is defunct).  We have helped by purchasing a water pump for them and are planning to have garden and pig-raising projects here starting in rainy season.

Original garden training with BHSOH in Nov 2010

The principal's wife has a lot of agricultural experience and does a great job of keeping the older students involved in gaining knowledge and experience in agriculture.

Yesterday we visited Hway Ka Loke, another large school in Mae Sot.  This particular school consists of all Karen students and is located just a few kilometers away from the Burmese border.  They have shown great ability in running creative and useful projects in the past, as we have shown in previous posts with their sustainable garden.  Jim (the principal) has great leadership skills and initiative.  Due to this, we are working with Hway Ka Loke to launch the first pig/compost pilot project starting in May.

Hway Ka Loke principal with some of their existing pigs
 While we were there we ran into a student showing off the seeds he and other students were able to harvest, dry and save for the upcoming planting season (video below):

Friday, April 22, 2011

Learning More About Natural Farming

We have spent the last month researching Natural Farming (NF) for upcoming pilot projects in Mae Sot with migrant schools.  This low-cost method of farming produces strong pigs, vegetables, and large amounts of compost and is geared towards improving income for a small piece of land.

Learning about lactic acid with Aj. Chokchai

In late March, Mark attended a 3-day training at the Northern Sustainable Development Learning Center in Chiang Rai province.  Ajarn Chokchai Sarakit ran the training, which covers the general theory of NF and instructions.  See here for pictures from the training.

We've also been working on a training manual based on the above training, and practicing training methods with a local group of Thai villagers close to Chiang Rai city.  Our first round focused on fermenting food for pigs, and how it cuts costs and improves pig health.

Raising pigs in deep-litter compost

In addition, we are looking at success cases of NF in Northern Thailand and trying to transmit experience and lessons learned to a future project in Mae Sot.  This album (and the video above) are from our most recent visit to an Akha farmer in Mae Suay, Chiang Rai province.

With this information in hand we are looking forward to excellent income-generation projects for Burmese, Karen and Shan migrants.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Compost In A New Light--Chokchai Integrated Farm

Today we visited the Northern Sustainable Development Learning Center in Chiang Rai province.  Located halfway in between Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, it was a convenient place for us to visit.  Using what we learned about integrated farming, our school garden projects in Mae Sot will yield additional benefits to the Burmese communities there!

After over 50 years of serving as a community development worker the founder of this organization, Khun Chokchai wants to change the attitudes of local farmers in order to overcome two important problems: poverty and debt.  Poverty comes from the lack of knowledge and support to gain income on a consistent basis, while debt comes from the costs of growing rice and raising animals in the conventional Thai manner. 

Having an integrated farm (using everything available from the natural surroundings and not using expensive cost inputs like fertilizer and pesticide) can solve both poverty and debt.  Chokchai mentions that one rai, or 2/5 of an acre, can result in 200,000 baht (US$6000) of annual income by using integrated farming.

Fermented pig food using cheap natural ingredients found around the farm

Using bottles to water plants efficiently
Using everything in an average village's surroundings helps an integrated farmer get past some difficult challenges.  Egg shells become sources of calcium for plants, empty beer bottles become water tanks for individual plants during hot season, and pigs do most of your labor for making food and compost!

The most impressive aspect of what integrated farming can achieve is composting.  This involves finely chopping a mixture of dry and living grass/leaves (free) and layering the bottom of a pig pen with it and some rice husks (extremely cheap).  The pigs are fed on a diet of fermented banana tree stalk (free), rice husk (very cheap), some corn (very cheap), and banana leaves (free).  The manure they produce is then mixed in with everything else by the pigs, their nature being to kick everything around.  Removing the mixture on a monthly basis and replacing with another batch is a great way to create high quality compost that outperforms dry compost made by conventional methods. This technique also removes all smells usually associated with pig rearing, as the bacteria in feces and urine are broken down almost immediately by the composting process.

Pigs play the role of worker by making compost for you

In terms of quality, quantity, cost of production and final sales price, compost that is made by this method is excellent.  For example, five pigs raised for six months can produce four metric tons of compost!  This compost can be sold at 6 baht per kilogram, meaning that one year of small scale compost production yields
48,000 baht income.  This is from owning just five pigs and using free materials from just one rai of land!

Of course, the pig compost can also be used for intensive vegetable growing, as this lettuce bed showed.

However, it gets better! Mixing the pig compost with some ground bonemeal and a little corn allows one to make pellets which can then be used to raise chickens, which are kept in a closed coop so that the eggs can be collected each day (one per chicken from the 100+ chickens in this farm). And, of course, the shells are collected to be included in feed or fertilizer.

We are excited about using these concepts to help the migrant learning centers in the Mae Sot area to increase their food output, and will now be planning a training/demonstration center near Mae Sot to provide training to teachers and pupils at participating schools.

To see all photos from our trip today click here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Water Solutions for Burmese Migrants

In January we met a group of four Burmese families in Mae Sot, Thailand.  They live near a red dirt road winding through fields of sugarcane, just past the town landfill.  A Thai farmer was kind enough to give them permission to live on one acre of his land without having to pay rent.  They can also grow vegetables and use water from his pond to do so.

The youngest woman of the group recently had a stroke, leaving the right side of her body partially paralyzed.  She no longer can collect recyclables or harvest sugarcane (two primary job opportunities for the Burmese in this part of Thailand), staying at home instead.  When she expressed interest in growing vegetables both for personal use and for sale, we noticed that this project would not only allow these families to improve their food security and income, but also give her an opportunity to boost her livelihood.
Improved soil leads to improved crops

Our first few visits were spent speaking with them about the water supply, what the land is like, and what types of veggies they have experience growing.  Given that they have a year-round source of water from their pond, we wanted to test a foot pump, a small plastic tank and normal 40-meter water hose.  This will reduce labor by cutting down walking time and distance for using a bucket to water the plants, and benefits the paralyzed woman greatly.

A deep pond near their homes

Their first round of vegetables were planted without much planning on their part, and most of the crops died as a result of poor soil and handling the seeds improperly.  However, by February they had learned much from their first month of practice and began managing their garden plots in a more serious fashion.  By using subdivded square and rectangle plots instead of planting in and around existing bushes, they have more order and control of what they are growing.  In addition, they are now using seeds bought on the Burmese side of the border, which they have more familiarity with.

We also tested our foot pump and explained the need for a tower of some kind to make all of this a "gravity system", which is fairly easy to understand--if the water is put in a high location, then gravity takes care of the rest by pushing the water back down inside a hose.  Two days later when we came back to measure the land, the families had taken the initiative to build their own wooden tower!  Together we gave the gravity system idea a shot, the results (see video above) were successful.

A half-day of work leads to a decent (and cheap!) gravity tank

See more photos of the families' garden, tower and great progress so far, and stay tuned for more updates on how they are doing!