A better way to raise chickens

Zaw Ye Naung, co-founder of Shwe Taung Nyo Gyi Co, a local producer of free-range eggs, recently accepted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Pioneer award, the first one given to a Myanmar business.

The awards are given to companies that have successfully aligned their business goals with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which are aimed at shaping a new era of sustainable growth. Each year, the UN recognises SDG pioneers.

This year, 10 entrepreneurs were selected from 160 countries, and the prizes were awarded at a ceremony in New York last week.

U Zaw Ye Naung talked with us about being the first Myanmar national to win the award, and his company’s business model, growth plans and secrets to success:

How did you win this award?

Our award was for advancing local livelihoods. Our business model provides technological and financial support as well as quality assurance – three things that rural villagers need. In exchange, farmers have to make sure they follow our standard operating procedures. Hens lay eggs every day, so the farmer gets a daily income. For chicken feed, we cooperate with farmers to grow beans, corn and sesame seed. So a micro-business ecosystem encompassing agriculture, livestock and packaging with bamboo is born.

We make QR codes for the eggs in each rural area, which provide customers with information about our eggs, such as the farm name, owner, the hen’s age, type of chicken feed, and so on. There is full food transparency.

Shwe Taung Nyo Gyi’s procedures are in line with the SDGs, which include poverty reduction, hunger elimination, responsible production, and cooperation. We received the award for having the new business model they have been searching for.

How was Shwe Taung Nyo Gyi established?

We established Shwe Taung Nyo Gyi organic poultry farm in 2017. When my son was nine months old, I ordered some chicken eggs to feed him. After three months, I noticed the eggs were not suitable to eat. As a father, I felt bad, so I thought of breeding chickens myself and set up this business. When I was abroad, I saw free-range poultry farming, so we started that here. We obtained certificates from the Myanmar Organic Agriculture Group, and we still produce and sell free-range eggs.

In the beginning, we had to get help from rural people. They knew nothing about free-range eggs, so we had to talk them into it. When they realised they could make money, we helped them produce on a larger scale. The success of Shwe Taung Nyo Gyi was rooted in those farmers, and because of them, we have reached this position.

What difficulties did you have to overcome?

I graduated in IT and had no experience or knowledge of this business, so trying to find out about it was my first challenge. To set up a 1000-bird free-range poultry farm costs about K20 million, but I made many mistakes so it cost me more than K80 million. There were so many difficulties because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Also, consumers didn’t know about free-range eggs at the time, so we couldn’t sell them. So we sold them to foreign embassies because foreigners know about free-range eggs. In other countries, a free-range egg costs around US$1 (K1500), but I sold them very cheap. After foreigners started buying our eggs, Myanmar people started to learn about them and we were able to penetrate the market, but only in Yangon.

What are organic eggs?

For organic eggs, the chicken feed must be certified organic and the method of raising the chickens must be according to organic concepts. During free-range egg production, we can try to meet organic standards. Our farms meet 50 percent of organic standards.

Are there other free-range eggs in Myanmar?

No one else sells free-range eggs commercially here. Consumers like free-range eggs, so they buy a lot. The problem is that we are not able to produce enough to keep up with consumer demand. We are able to sell only in small markets.

We can breed a maximum of about 2000 chickens to lay free-range eggs. We work together with farmers, providing them with our farming methods, with funding, and with an assured market. The number of farms supplying us with eggs has increased ten times. We don’t own the farms, we just work with them.

We sell eggs door-to-door for a monthly fee under our “Farm-to-Home Programme.” We also sell our eggs to the best restaurants in Yangon, and we are part of City Mart’s City Farm Product line.

Is there potential for expansion?

Ours is a niche market. We have to balance our production and costs with consumer purchasing power. We could incur losses if we produce too much, and we could run out of product if we cut production too much, so the best way is to conduct market research. Our research farm is studying ways to lower our prices, but it will take time and cost a lot of money.

Do you have expansion plans?

We have farms that can accommodate thousands of chicken, and some only have 200. We work with more than 30 poultry farms in Shan, Mandalay and Yangon. We are thinking of expanding to Kayin State. If the farmers want to join, they can contact us, and we will give them training for four weeks and buy all their eggs.

Is there a market for organic food here?

More people want organic and more businesses are trying to market organic products in Myanmar. People should eat organic food that doesn’t contain chemicals, but it is an isolated market, and will grow gradually. Most Myanmar people want chemical-free food, so we are prepared for an expanding market.

Myanmar has a lot of fertile land. By exploiting it, we can focus on getting a major share of the world market for organic crops, meat and fish. I believe that working together we’ll be able to shape Myanmar Means Organic.

Source: Myanmar Times

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