the interview Interview with Dr May Myat Noe Lwin (PhD) Dr May Myat Noe Lwin currently works as Technical Advisor for the USAID Sustainable Seafood Industry Development Project, which promotes regional cooperation for regulated and legal fishing in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr Lwin also serves as the Country Manager for the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC).
When did you start working in aquaculture?
After 2005, I started a soft shell crab farm. I started with 10,000 crab boxes because that was all the money I had. With the trading I’d been doing I had some money but the crab work was seasonal. So, I started with the 10,000 boxes but, because I am in Thailand and I can speak Thai and Burmese, I chose a town in Myanmar that borders with Thailand.
How did you come to be working for USSEC?
I started another farm and I was also seafood trading. I bought seafood from Myanmar suppliers and sold it to Thai buyers in Bangkok and Phuket. Then I opened a soft shell mangrove crab farm.
How many crabs do you have?
In Thailand only 150 because it is one crab for one box and that means that one box already costs one dollar. So you have a lot of crab boxes. And not only in Thailand. I also have a farm in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh farm has more crab boxes. I am closing the Thailand farm down because we want to start a new farm in Myanmar.
What do you feed the crab and from which company do you get the feed?
We only feed them trout. We don’t feed them formulated diet, or a compound feed. That’s why I decided to go to the US and get my PhD, so I could learn about making a diet for soft-shell crab production. Because the crab are in individual boxes, all you have to do is feed them is put the trash fish inside the box. In Thailand we have 100,000 crab boxes, and in Bangladesh we have 150,000 crab boxes. Our target is to reach half a million crab boxes in the next few years.
So you are still running the farms and also working for USSEC (United States Soybean Export Council)?
I was doing crab farming and seafood trading when one day I was invited to India Aquaculture 2009 and I made a presentation. Most of the speakers were really well known while I was the only farmer. They wanted me to share how I did it, so they invited me to speak. In 2012 USSEC wanted to have a programme in Myanmar and they asked if I could connect them with people in the industry. We did one workshop in Myanmar but during that time Ang San Su Kyi was still under house arrest so we jumped in before anything opened up and in 2013 USSEC decided to have a programme so I worked for them part time. Soft shell crab farming is very intensive – you have to check the crabs every four hours. I was working part time for USSEC and I wanted to go back and forth between Myanmar and Thailand. We started introducing USSEC technical assistance for farmers etc. In 2012 not a lot of people know what US soybeans were but now they import 300,000 metric tonnes of US soy and it is increasing every year.
It is a big market in many ways because not many people are doing these soft-shelled crabs. Where is your major market basically?
Our major market is Japan, USA, China, Australia and even Europe, but Europe is more of a niche market, it doesn’t have the volume, like you are selling one million metric tonnes. That revenue income should be very significant because just to supply to China alone, where they love soft shell crabs. But our price is much better, because we are selling with the soft
shelled at 15 US dollars, which is a good price.
And you have a factory that makes your feed?
In Thailand we used to have one feed mill. Farmers there don’t believe that formulated diets work so it is challenging for a feed miller to produce it in a large volume and eventually they stopped producing it. The other thing I find now is the crab is like Asian sea bass. Asian sea bass, if you want to start feeding them the formulated diet, you need to start weaning with the pellet. Even though crabs eat everything you put in the crab boxes, you need to train them a couple of days there and they get used to it with the pellet and also compared to the trash fish, the trash fish has a really good smell and you can really see the crab behaviour there. When I did my experiment when you feed the crab trout, they are so happy, they eat it straightaway. When you feed the pellet, the first couple of days you need to starve them until they are really hungry, you have to practice them, feed them. I also find that if you feed them in the evening they are more willing to take it.
Did you have to have special machinery to produce pellets?
So my research is to look at the crab and see whether it will take a pellet or not and then I find out whether they take it in terms of weight gain, survival and moulting frequency. Whether they stay the same like the trash fish or not and we change the pellet like three or four times because the other challenge we have is crabs have big claws and when they eat it, they hold it first but their claws are so powerful and if your pellets is not hard enough, it just breaks down and within those small boxes, it is just wasted. It’s important that it is hard enough for the crab to hold it and like to eat like using chopsticks, very slowly; it is very interesting. We use different kinds of binder.
Have you had any special challenges being a woman in aquaculture or has it been pretty open for you?
When I started a farm in Thailand everyone was saying ‘oh she’s just like a girl and maybe in one- or two-year’s time she will be gone.’ It has been pretty open for me as a woman, maybe because of my personal philosophy, I don’t think you should be treating me a certain way because I am a woman. Maybe I have a different opinion because most of my staff are men. I do not have that many women working for me. If you are a good role model, instead of saying do this or do that, we work together and make women part of the decision making. Also from and also it’s just like you need to work hard.
What is your view of the future for Myanmar? What is your view of the prospects of the feed industry? In China, the feed industry asked the government not to tax feed to help ensure there are no hungry people in China. Do do you think that could happen in Myanmar?
In Myanmar we have a really good aquaculture situation with the rivers and the sea. We do a lot with marine fish, but many areas have never done any fish farming. It would help if our government adopted a policy encouraging people to do more and to export more. Before, when we were under sanctions from the US and the EU we had to stick with species that we only sell domestically. But now, if we target the right species we can export them and sell it to anyone, to China, the US and the EU and the industry will be growing very fast in the next five to ten years’ time.
62 | December 2018 - International Aquafeed