The Tiger Roars!

In Rakhine State, Myanmar, Oxfam and WEDC are developing the Tiger Worm Toilet from the household sanitation level (where it has been proven successful) to a phased application at communal sanitation level, appropriate for use in humanitarian camps. This will help meet the need for an economically and environmentally sustainable sanitation alternative to the commonly used pit latrine in humanitarian camps – particularly as camp longevity is increasing.

The project team visiting the government-run worm farm at the Vegetable and Fruit Research Development Centre in Yangon. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

The project team visiting the government-run worm farm at the Vegetable and Fruit Research Development Centre in Yangon. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

For the success of our project there are two critical components. Firstly the worms, without them we cannot have a Tiger Worm Toilet. The second critical component is people, or should I stay stakeholders. This includes the users and any group that has an interest in the Tiger Worm Toilet. My first project visit and this blog focuses on these aspects of our project.

My first full day in Yangon was spent in an air conditioned mini-van, which slowly negotiated the traffic of Yangon. We were on a mission, searching for illusive worm farms located on the outskirts of the city. Our day proved to be long, but fruitful.

The existing market for nutrient-rich vermicompost in Yangon could mean the Tiger Worm Toilet concept is more readily accepted. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

The existing market for nutrient-rich vermicompost in Yangon could mean the Tiger Worm Toilet concept is more readily accepted. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

Our first visit was to the Vegetable and Fruit Research Development Centre. This was an immaculate government run facility, which is focused on capacity building and agricultural research. Their worm farm comprised of two beds where they were breeding a mixture of good composting worms (Red Worms, Indian Blues, African Night Crawlers and Local Worms) that could be used on our toilets. They estimated that they had over 4,000 worms! Their interest was not in the worms themselves, but what they produce – vermicompost (worm poo) and vermi-tea (a liquid produced from the worm poo). These products were sold to local farmers for approximately £0.30 per unit. This is of interest to us as it shows that vermicompost is being used in Myanmar and there is a market for it, which could mean the idea of a Tiger Worm Toilet is more acceptable to the user. The most exciting outcome from this visit was that they were willing to sell us their precious worms for 15 Kyat each (under a penny).

The India Blue (Perionyx excavatus) composting worm, bought from the Men’s Association Agricultural Training Centre in Yangon. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

The India Blue (Perionyx excavatus) composting worm, bought from the Men’s Association Agricultural Training Centre in Yangon. Credit: Dr Claire Furlong

The next stop on our worm tour was at a Men’s Association Agricultural Training Centre, which trains small holders in holistic farming practices including vermicomposting. We were shown around by Mr John Aye Lwin. They had a very similar worm farm to the one at the Research Centre, but they were breeding a single species of worms – the India Blue (Perionyx excavatus) composting worm. This is a very beautiful worm with a blue to purple sheen, hence its name. Again we had struck gold, as they were also happy to sell and breed worms for us.

We had now established our worm supply for the first phase of our project, so we went ahead to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State and situated where the Kaladan, Mayu, and Lay Mro rivers meet the Bay of Bengal. Although the city is 900km from Yangon it was a short and pleasant flight.

In this project we will be working in politically sensitive areas in Rakhine, therefore it is critical to gain buy-in from not only the users, but also from high level local stakeholders such as the local government, academics and other NGOs working in this region. This is because many of these organisations have the ability to make or break our project. So one of the activities I was involved in during my short stay in Sittwe was helping to develop and deliver a workshop for high level stakeholders in the region. Bagus (the project engineer) worked tirelessly liaising with and delivering official invitation letters to stakeholders across the city.

It was an amazing morning attended by approximately 30 participants and 11 organisations and institutions working in Rakhine State. These included representatives from the Government Departments of Relief and Development, of Health, six agencies including IFRC, Save the Children and UNICEF, and academics from Sittwe Technical University and Technical High School. My role in the workshop was to explain the history of this technology and how the Tiger Worm Toilet works. The participants were also introduced the stars of our project the worms, I have to admit some participants were squirming at this point.

This was a participatory session and lots of questions were asked and answered such as: “Can the worms escape?” “Where can you find these worms?” “Will you end up with lots of worms?” “How much can a worm eat?” etc. Bagus then held a participatory session introducing our preliminary designs. The objective of this session was to gather feedback and further inspiration from the participants. This was a hugely valuable session and we gained insight into different materials that could be used, questions we may need to ask the users, and noted other potential user groups i.e. rural farmers in the region.

As Oxfam has an ethos of knowledge sharing, many NGOs left with our designs and are hoping to trial the system themselves, on a much smaller scale. As with all good workshops ours ended networking over a hearty lunch.

Dr Claire Furlong

Elrha is hosted by Save the Children, a registered charity in England and Wales (213890) and Scotland (SC039570).

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