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Monday, 22 February 2016 06:40

Fresko

Freshly Home Grown: Fresco by Jaiden Coonan

Fresco’s origins began in 2007 when a group of agronomists had a dream of providing fresh produce to supermarkets, like City Mart in Yangon, plus restaurants and hotels around Taunggyi and Inle Lake.

The idea was to grow highly nutritious vegetables from all over the world such as beef tomatoes, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, melons, red radishes, fennel, leeks, and beetroots.

My Yangon spoke to the Managing Director of Fresco, Paolo Cerati, about their company including their infrastructure troubles, pesticide usage and sustainable practices.

Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and why you’re in Myanmar?

I’m an agronomist from Italy who arrived in Myanmar 11 years ago. I was originally working for an Italian NGO that was based in Taunggyi, Shan State. I lived there for two and a half years, after that I was in charge of a food security project there. The idea of growing vegetables for the town’s restaurants came to me because at that time there was nothing.

What inspired you to start Fresco?

The first reason is that living in Shan State I was able to work with farmers and I was able to see the amounts of chemicals used, and, despite what people think, Myanmar is not an organic country – it’s totally the opposite, unfortunately. I was scared from seeing what the local farmers were using. One reason is that I wanted to produce something clean and safe for the people.

Also to help local farmers, I saw local farmers struggling to get any profit out of their farm. The idea was to teach them that the solution is to diversify their product. So if everybody is growing cabbage, you grow something else.

You said you had some concerns about the produce grown here, what are some of those concerns?

Mainly it is the way how they produce it. So basically, most farmers don’t have any knowledge about insecticides, pesticides or fungicides. You have people who spray chemicals on the cabbage the day before it is harvested, so you have contaminated vegetables. So it is definitely a very big problem, and in my opinion, it is much underestimated.

We grow in the dry zone during the winter time because we discovered you can grow tomatoes without using chemicals because vegetables aren’t grown in the area, so there is less of threat from insects.

How does the weather affect produce cultivation in Myanmar?

Unfortunately, I’d have to say 100%. Because in Myanmar everything is open field cultivation, they don’t have any access to any materials that can help grow the vegetables in certain conditions. In Kayin we tried to grow tomatoes there but in Kayin it rains more there than anywhere else in the country.

What are the sustainable methods used at Fresco?

What we use on our farm and what we teach our farmers is called companion planting where we plant certain plants next to each other that prove growing together works, for example; the scent of carrots repels an insect that feeds on tomato. So if you grow a line of carrots and a line of tomatoes it helps.

We are not teaching our farmers mono-cropping but how to work with small crops.

We are also in talks with a Netherland’s company about bio-pest controls that you can use in organic farming; we hope to have some imported soon. So we’ll teach the farmers how to use that as well as creating shelters during the wet season so farmers won’t have to use fungicides.

What are Myanmar supply chains like?

From Shan State to Yangon, we use local buses to transport our vegetables, if I bought my own truck I’d have to hire two drivers for the 12-hour drive so it’s safer. But it is not only that but maintenance of the truck over long distances and old roads.

It can take up to 3 days for our produce to get to supermarkets. The only way around this is improved infrastructure; we want to improve our logistics. We harvest in the afternoon and put the produce on an overnight bus, so we can have it to them by the afternoon the next day.

What places use and sell Fresco produce?

We have four different sectors in our market, the one big sector is supermarkets like City Mart – we work with them a lot. Another sector is hotels and restaurants; we have clients around Inle Lake or in the country side like Bagan, Mandalay, Ngapali and Ngwe Saung sometimes and Nay Pyi Taw sometimes. The last one is the vegetable box delivery scheme that is booming.

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