Simple cook stoves ignite entrepreneurial spirit in Myanmar

Home to some of Myanmar’s largest mangrove forests, Tanintharyi Region is known for its pristine coastline and the hundreds of islands in the Myeik Archipelago. 

Mangroves provide critical ecosystem services and shield inland areas from storms and tidal surges.  They also provide food and other resources that coastal communities rely on day to day.  Like many who live along the coast in Tanintharyi, Nyan Lin Aung uses fuel-wood collected from mangroves to cook food for his family.  Nyan supports his family by farming rice on a small piece of land but he always dreamed of new opportunities to develop his own business to bring in additional income for his family. 

Two men crouch on the ground making cement cookstoves

Fuel-wood collection and charcoal production, along with the expansion of agriculture and aquaculture, are the main reasons mangroves are being lost in Myanmar.  With very limited access to other energy sources, such as electricity or gas, many coastal communities rely on wood to fuel their cooking fires and for construction materials.  Recent studies indicate that each rural household in Myanmar consumes more than 2.5 tonnes of fuel-wood every year. This, coupled with an ever growing human population and increasing demand for land, is leading to the destruction and degradation of mangrove forest ecosystems. 

One way to address this problem is to use cook stoves that use less fuel-wood. In August 2016, Mangroves for the Future (MFF) teamed up with Mangrove Service Network (MSN) and Nyan’s community to start a small project to introduce energy efficient stoves.  Rather than just hand over factory-made stoves, the project trained community members in making the stoves. By using the stoves, families were able to save time as they no longer had to collect wood, and money as they no longer had to buy charcoal.

Four men in matching green shirts practice making stoves step by step

Nyan saw a business opportunity. With increasing interest from other communities nearby to use the stoves, Nyan gathered his savings, purchased materials and equipment, and set out to make more stoves that he could sell. 

Since he started his own small business, Nyan has been able to earn an additional US $400 to support his family. By encouraging others to use the stoves, Nyan has reduced the demand for fuel-wood and charcoal, and therefore contributed to conserving Tanintharyi’s mangroves.   

A metal basin heats on top of a small cement cookstove

“Now I want to take the next step and build my business by selling my stoves to villages along the highway,” says Nyan with enthusiasm and ambition. Nyan is hoping the demand for these stoves will extend to nearby towns, providing new opportunities for his business to expand.   

Nyan’s story is a good example of how small investments in community action can pave the way for conserving important coastal habitats, while also catalysing positive social change.

This story was contributed by Zin Myo Thu, MFF National Coordinator for Myanmar. Zin drafted the piece following the IUCN Asia Strategic Communications for Conservation Workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, which took place in July.

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a partnership-based regional initiative which promotes investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development. MFF focuses on the role that healthy, well-managed coastal ecosystems play in building the resilience of ecosystem-dependent coastal communities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. The initiative uses mangroves as a flagship ecosystem, but MFF is inclusive of all types of coastal ecosystem, such as coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons, sandy beaches, sea grasses and wetlands. MFF is co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP, and is funded by Danida, Norad, and Sida and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Thailand.

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