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Startups

Coffee entrepreneurs seek success in Myanmar's poorest state

Partners pin hope on wine and cosmetics as tickets out of poverty

Mar Hung, center, and his partners make various products from the coffee beans they grow in the state of Chin, in western Myanmar.

YANGON -- Young people from Myanmar are starting businesses to escape poverty in Chin, the country's poorest state in Southeast Asia's least developed country.

Chin is a mountainous state in western Myanmar. Its per capita gross domestic product was around 760,000 kyat ($500 at the current exchange rate) in 2017, only about a quarter that of Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital.

In mid-March, three young businessmen attended the Chin State Investment and Product Fair in Yangon, looking for ways to turn their coffee beans into high value-added products such as wine and cosmetics.

Mar Hung, 26, from the town of Mindat, used to grow elephant yam. In 2016, he began growing coffee because of its suitability for mountainous climates.

"The local market for local elephant yam was not good, so I had to export to countries such as China, Japan and India," Mar Hung said. "I was looking for a final product. I didn't want to sell just raw materials. I wanted to start making a value-added product. With coffee, I thought there would be a local consumer market as well as the global market," he said.

In addition to selling coffee beans, Mar Hung opened a coffee shop in Mindat.

"Mar Hung is a true entrepreneur," said Kyaw Thant Tin, his 28-year-old partner. "He is planning to make not only wine but also cosmetics later on." Kyaw Thant Tin began working with Mar Hung after the two became acquainted by chance. Kyaw Thant Tin had to stay in Mindat for several days when his car broke down while he was driving through Chin.

Then he asked his friend, Aung Min Hein, 33, to join the team. Mar Hung's two partners help him with the administrative tasks -- accounting, marketing and so forth. They also speak good English, which helps the business.

The trio is looking for ways to modernize their operation, such as automating the post-harvest processing. These young, ambitious entrepreneurs could point the way for others, helping Myanmar escape poverty.

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