Visiting AQUADAPT-Myanmar Team in Yangon

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Photo: Phimphakan Lebel

On 21-23 March 2018 I was in Yangon, Myanmar. The purpose of this visit was to meet with our AQUADAPT-Mekong project partner. It was my first time travelling to the country. I took the direct flight from Chiang Mai to Yangon; duration 1 hour, and on a propeller plane. We landed around midday.

There was a lot to notice during the taxi ride to the hotel, like the fact that the cars here drive on the right, even though the driver’s seat is also located on the right hand side; that there are lots of billboards with familiar Thai brands; and that we passed by a neighbourhood of mansions that would look right at home in Beverly Hills. The hotel we stayed in was on the bank of Inya Lake; a very picturesque waterbody frequented by couples during the balmy evenings.

The 22nd was the main day of our visit, and a full-day schedule it was too. Dr. Khin Maung Soe (or “Uncle K” as I now call him), came to pick us up at the hotel. Uncle K is the National Project Advisor to the WorldFish Myanmar Office, and Partner Leader for the AQUADAPT-Myanmar team. He is an energetic and bubbly personality; sharp and well connected. Everybody likes Uncle K.

Our first stop of the day was at a fish farm on the outskirts of Yangon; pass the industrial area. The road conditions thereto was not smooth, so I got a bit carsick as a result. Nevertheless, it was an interesting drive and the weather fine. One thing I noticed and intrigued me was that a lot of rural houses had a small rectangular solar panel installed on their roof. Uncle K told me that the panels are cheap and very common; imported from China and India, and used to power small electrical appliances.

The fish ponds we visited belonged to a farmer who was good friends with Uncle K. He was a very kind man. The first thing we noticed about his ponds was that they were very large; more like small lakes. Perhaps the biggest ponds we’ve come across; the ponds in Thailand and neighbouring countries tend to be much smaller. Given the size of the ponds, stocking densities are thus low; so not intensive farming, at least not compared to Thailand. Moreover, for feed farmers use rice bran, not pellet feed; and aerators are not common. However the cultured fish species, rohu of the carp family, is high value. Farmers rear them for 3 years; at which point the fish weight reaches around 7-8 kilograms. Once harvested the fish are taken to factories, where they are processed into fillets and exported; to the Middle East in particular. Before we left, the kind farmer gave us a bag of mangoes from his tree as a parting gift. We were very grateful.

After the farm our next stop was the Myanmar Fisheries Federation, wherein we met with the Secretary General, whom welcomed us warmly and provided lunch; a delicious feast, all the dishes of which were aquaculture-related. It was at this table that I tasted my first fresh water prawn. It was incredibly tasty! Speaking of taste, Burmese food is a bit of Chinese, Thai and Indian together if I had to describe it; perhaps not a very helpful description, but suffice it to say here, I really liked all the dishes.

Stomachs thus satisfied, we headed to our next destination: WorldFish, our partner organization in Myanmar. The office was located in the Department of Fisheries regional office; a rectangular old building painted colonial white, with a courtyard in the middle of the building. In Uncle K’s office, we held a small informal meeting; WorldFish Director Michael Akester was also present. I like Michael, he is methodical and wise. Together as a group we had a good chat and talked about some ideas for follow-up research and field surveys.

Our fourth meeting for the day was at Green Way office. On the drive thereto we stopped on the side of the road briefly to buy some jackfruit. At Green Way we were welcomed by the founders and brains behind the successful agri-mobile application, Yin Yin Phyu and Thein Soe Min; two very bright young adults with vision and drive. Partnering with WorldFish, Green Way is currently working on adding an aquaculture branch to the existing agri-mobile app, which now has over 77,000 registered farmers. It was really nice to meet the team behind the app and learn more about their history. The decor of the office was decidedly Googlesque.

The day not over yet, Uncle K took us to the port, which was swarming with seagulls. I initially mistook the cheese balls that people were selling as scrumptious-looking snacks. Good luck that I didn’t buy any, because it was actually feed for the birds. About half past five in the afternoon we got on a large boat and cruised the Irrawaddy River; the sunsetting behind us, casting the heavens a brilliant mandarin hue. A lot of photos and selfies were taken. It was a relaxing conclusion to a long day of field trips and meetings. Uncle K sat on the side of the deck looking pensively at the Irrawaddy.

On the drive back to the hotel we stopped on the side of the road for a few minutes, near the gates to the Shwedagon Pagoda, where we admired its magnificence from afar. The giant gilded chedi is a winning sight; impressive even from a distance.

Overall this was a fantastic trip; a great experience for me. I would like to thank Uncle K very much for all the planning and effort he put into showing us a bit of the Yangon aquaculture sector. We hope to visit Uncle K and Myanmar again soon!