Southern Shan co-op exports $35,000 worth of coffee to Europe

A Shan-based co-operative involving almost a thousand local farmers has exported its first container of coffee worth US$35,000 to Europe.

The Green Gold cooperative (co-op) exported its first container of select coffee to the European market on Friday. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the export represents a positive development in the agency’s efforts to offer farmers a sustainable livelihood alternative to opium poppy cultivation.

Since its creation in 2015, Green Gold, which now comprises 968 farmers in southern Shan, has worked together with the agency to develop the coffee business, create coffee nurseries, set up sustainable plantations and undertake market research. The co-op signed a 5-year partnership agreement with French coffee specialist Malongo for the commercialisation of its harvests under fair-trade conditions in late 2017. The 2018 harvest came from 60 villages across Loilem, Hopong and Ywangan townships. “In one community, Pan Lim, the coffee was of such a high quality, that Malongo agreed to pay a price of US$8.00 per kilogramme of green coffee beans – double the market average in Myanmar,” the UNODC stated.

Troels Vester, UNODC country manager in Myanmar, told The Myanmar Times that a thousand new farmers want to leave the illicit opium business for the legal coffee business under the scheme. Green Gold is taking steps to have its own processing infrastructure for its next harvest, which will allow it to control additional steps in the value chain of coffee production.

In fact, he added, UNODC’s strategy of is to reduce all middlemen for farmers to be united in the co-op, selling directly to a large coffee company in the international market such as Malongo. Thus, they will secure a higher profit and have ownership of the process and negotiations. In addition, the UNODC is supporting Green Gold to develop a capacity to process the coffee beans without depending on third parties.

Conflict in the region presents a key difficulty for the elimination of poppy cultivation, because farmers find it hard to change their crop and access technical assistance.

“The way forward is to include drug production, drug trafficking and drug economy in the peace process followed by assistance to the farmers to make the change,” Mr Vester explained. At the same time, the UN agency has supported farmers to obtain land ownership certificates as well as improving women’s access to land ownership and forestry education.

Myanmar is the second largest producer of opium in the world, after Afghanistan. The 2015 Southeast Asia Opium Survey shows that approximately 55,000 hectares of opium poppies were cultivated in 2014.

When launching the cooperative in 2015, the UNODC said that opium farming occurs for a number of complex, interrelated reasons, such as poverty and the presence of conflict. Dynamic, sustained efforts are hence necessary to reduce, and eventually eliminate, poppy cultivation.

Opium poppy farming has a particularly far-reaching impact on Myanmar’s biggest sub-region, Shan, which covers almost a quarter of the country’s land mass. The 2017 opium survey estimates that out of a total of 41,000 hectares of opium poppy cultivated in the country, more than 90 percent is in Shan. To put the severity of the issue into perspective: 80 percent of the heroin on the streets of Australia comes from the state.


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