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Last updated on 21 January, 2020

Customizing traditional skills

In the Letmaungkwe Hill Tracts of Southern Shan State, Myanmar, bamboo is an important non-timber forest product for local livelihoods and for the environment. A value-chain analysis conducted in Myanmar under ICIMOD’s Himalica initiative found that local bamboo producers would get more cash income if they could process bamboo products themselves, rather than just selling bamboo culms (stems) to traders. The communities have long possessed the traditional skills to weave bamboo and make a variety of products for household use (house walls, baskets for grain storage, etc.). Himalica organized practical training and mentoring programmes on creating value-added bamboo products. The bamboo products are promoted through social media and trade fairs. By establishing appropriate linkages with traders and consumers, the bamboo processors are supported in improving their value chain. To improve the sustainability of bamboo stocks, the craft persons are planting bamboo seedlings and harvesting bamboo sustainably. Many community members, especially youths, from other villages have been inspired and now want to take up bamboo enterprise.

The issue

Low and uncertain income is one of the main factors for the low resilience of rural communities in the HKH. Income diversification through allocation of household resources – natural, labour, capital for non-traditional production, processing, packaging, branding, and other forms of value-addition sustainability – is one way to increase income, thereby increasing the resilience of rural communities in the HKH.

There is a good market for value-added bamboo products in Myanmar, especially in the Inle Lake region, which sees thousands of domestic and foreign tourists each year. Local communities living in the Inle Lake catchment area, including the Letmaungkwe Hill Tracts, have not harnessed this bamboo market potential for generating income and gainful employment.

The communities make mats and baskets from bamboo for domestic consumption, using traditional skills. Bamboo materials are also used for constructing houses and fences, and for conveying roof rainwater into storage tanks. Raw culms (stems) are sometimes sold to merchants at a low price.

Pantin, Thayetpin, Kyaung Nar, Kyaung Taung, and Zee Yar are remote villages in the Letmaungkwe Hill Tracts of Southern Shan State. A baseline survey in 2014 found that the average annual income of households in these villages was USD 1,055. About 77 percent of the income was spent on household consumption. Nearly 50 percent of the households harvest non-timber forest products, including bamboo, for home consumption and minor income. Only 0.5 percent of all households used to get income from the sale of handicraft. The bamboo value chain offers a good opportunity to increase the cash income of bamboo producers by operating in the emerging bamboo market.

The solution

Himalica attempted to customize the traditional weaving skills of communities for making products that are in demand. Practical training and mentoring on value-added bamboo products for 100 interested local artisans from the project sites were organised in 2016. By June 2017, 41 community members from Himalica pilot sites were producing various bamboo products like mugs, trays, and other items for the market. These artisans were linked to potential buyers, and the products were promoted through Facebook, trade fairs, and World Bamboo Day celebrations. The entire process for the bamboo value chain is facilitated by the partner organization, the Myanmar Institute of Integrated Development (MIID).

The conservation and long-term utilization of bamboo resources can only be realized if they are harvested on an ecologically sustainable basis. Hence, the bamboo craft persons are trained on sustainable bamboo-propagation and -harvesting methods. Moreover, they have planted bamboo seedlings for increasing their bamboo stocks.

Impact and uptake

In September 2017, after one year of training, 41 bamboo product processors, including five women, from six villages included the bamboo value chain as their new livelihood option. They produced a variety of bamboo items and earned, altogether, about USD 10,000. The number of households involved in producing bamboo handicrafts and their income from the products is gradually increasing.

(Table 1). While bamboo trays and mugs are very popular, the processors are also receiving orders for other items like beer mugs, clocks, tissue boxes, and stationery container boxes.

Due to the dissemination of the bamboo value chain success story through the media, including social media and trade fairs, many more communities are interested in implementing the bamboo value chain. A demand-based training on bamboo craft was organized in August 2017 for 78 community members from different ethnic groups, mostly youths, from Taunggyi District in Shan.

The wide-scale availability of bamboo, the increasing demand for bamboo products, as well as the the government’s emphasizing the sector in Myanmar present major opportunities for local bamboo producers and other marketing actors in the Letmaungkwe Hill Tracts.

Table 1: Bamboo value chain progress since September 2016 (Himalica project reports, MIID)

Number of craft persons in March 2017 31 No women craft persons
Number of craft persons in September 2017 41 Five women craft persons
Villages involved in March 2017 5 Pantin, Thayetpin, Kyaung Nar,

Kyaung Taung, and Zee Yar

Villages involved in September 2017 6 + En Pak village
Total earnings in March 2017 (USD) 6,375 = 8,605,100 MMK
Total earnings in June 2017 (USD) 7,704 = 10,589,100 MMK
Total earnings in September 2017 (USD) 10,007 = 13,843,100 MMK
Highest income/person in March 2017 (USD) 887 By U Lin Youn from Kyaung Nar village
Highest income/person in September 2017 (USD) 960
Minimum income/person in June 2017 (USD) 3.6 Started business in June 2017
Minimum income/person in September 2017 (USD) 11 Started business in June 2017

Contributors

Sanjeev Bhuchar, ICIMOD
Surendra Raj Joshi, ICIMOD
Madhav Dhakal, ICIMOD
David Abrahamson, MIID

Further reading/ Information

1)            Heho Village locals get a new source of livelihood (2016, October 25). The Myawady Daily. Retrieved from http://themyawadydaily.blogspot. com/2016/10/heho-village-locals-get-new- source-of.html.

2)            Abrahamson, D. (2017). Bamboo handicrafts with Shan Communities. Retrieved from https://www. slideshare.net/ethicalsector/19-miid-bamboo-cit- project-14-june2017