Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Programme

EXCEEDing expectations: Transforming realities through livelihoods

January 15, 2019

Ms. Khin Nyo met some NTFP-EP staff for the first time when she attended the EXCEED training in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2017.  Back then, she had only been a few weeks in her position as the Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Partnership officer at WWF Myanmar.  Although her role didn´t include specific enterprise activities, her organization decided that it would be important for her to attend the training to develop the livelihoods component.

Pyar Thar Chaung 5

In the EXCEED training, Mah Nyo learned how to form community enterprises, how social enterprises operate, key marketing concepts, the importance of systems of production, business planning and financial management.  During the training, Mah Nyo was not only acknowledging these concepts for the first time but also supporting Naw Aye, a Karen language teacher from Kyike Phil Lan Community Forest Group, to understand the training herself by translating from English to Burmese.

EXCEED - Women and Entrepreneurship

“It was difficult. While some participants had attended other trainings before, it was my first time,” shared Mha Nyo.  Despite the challenge, Mah Nyo apprehended the concepts through the different methodologies that the EXCEED training uses.  She participated in the discussions and got to see the concepts applied in practice with the visit to an enterprise of sago crackers. She also met participants from different countries and shared similar contexts with them, despite the language barriers.

After returning from her training, she was convinced that a community enterprise could be “very beneficial for [the] community”. The topic was included during the consultation process with the community, where they agreed to have the training aimed at developing enterprises on elephant foot yam, a tropical tuber that grows particularly well in their communities, and has recurrent demand for export due to its nutritious value.

Elephant Foot Yam

The Karen have been selling this product for several years to local agents who later export it, mainly to China. With the enterprise, they want to make a systematic process for its management, and eventually export directly, in order to gain a more significant portion of the profit for the community.

Hein Dar Pyin 4

Mah Nyo´s task of re-transmitting enterprise knowledge was by far more difficult than learning the concepts, considering the context of the communities she works within WWF Myanmar.  They selected five villages in the Tanintharyi Region: Hein Dar Pyin, Kyauk Htu, Kyike Phi Lan, Leik Hla I and Pyar Thar Chaung.  EXCEED learnings were going to an area that has suffered armed conflict for decades, restricting access to formal education and limiting economic development. As a result, in the group of 63 farmers, only 2 to 3 had the chance to finish high school.  Mah Nyo had to translate the training to their specific context, while the training was also being translated from Burmese to Karen.

Leik Hla I 1

Nevertheless, the community proved to have a very clear grasp of the importance of finance and marketing.  It was more challenging when they addressed concepts like management systems.  The costing process was also difficult since this was something they have never done before.

Not only have they progressed on the understanding of the concepts, but with WWF, they already registered the 5 groups in the Small Scale Enterprise Department (SSED) and have created a governance structure for each of them to continue growing.  Additionally, they are working on the management of the resource by planting it in their respective orchards, when in the past they used to collect it from the forest.

However, they still have a long way to go in producing a high quality product.  Internally, they require more training, support, technology and capital to add more value.  On a macro level, they also need better roads to take the product to the market, and communication services to contact potential buyers since to date, there is no reception in the area.

Meanwhile, Mah Nyo keeps in touch with them, even if her task of transmitting her knowledge is over.  She keeps working “hoping it will lead to overcome the poverty of our villages,” she says.

Her amazing job shows that is possible to exceed the expectations, even in the most difficult contexts.  All out admiration to EXCEED participants who keep on using their capacities to transform their realities!


Written by: Alejandra Carvajal-Sanchez, NTFP-EP Asia
Photos by: Mah Nyo, WWF Myanmar