Home Insider Over 1000 Farmers Forge a New Path Forward in South Shan State

Over 1000 Farmers Forge a New Path Forward in South Shan State

East and Southeast Asia is the largest market for amphetamine type stimulants in the world, and its scope continues to expand. The production and consumption of opiates also continues to rise in the region.

According to the United Nations on Drug and Crime (UNODC)’s Myanmar Opium Survey 2017, the area under opium poppy cultivation decreased significantly in 2017 to 41,000 hectares, down 25% from the 55,500 hectares recorded in 2015. Opium production has also decreased 18%, from 647 metric tons in 2015 to 550 tons in 2017, according to the report.

But Opium poppy farming is still a serious problem in Myanmar, Opium farming occurs for a number of complex, interrelated reasons, such as poverty, the presence of conflict, etc. Dynamic, sustained efforts are therefore needed to reduce, and eventually eliminate, poppy cultivation.

Research by UNODC has found a strong correlation between security and opium cultivation; but it also shows that given a choice, communities currently producing opium would want a different source of income and a future away from the cycle of instability that it brings.

As a step towards eliminating opium, in 2014, UNODC started a project that involved planting 200 hectares of coffee in an agro-forestry system. This coffee is replacing the former opium fields in the Hopong and Loilem Townships of Southern Shan State of Myanmar to make the transition from opium to sustainable, high value coffee. Later, farmers from Ywangan Township also participated to boost the project.

Presently, an additional 400 hectares of coffee are being cultivated by over 700 ex-opium farming households living in the remote and mountainous area.

In April 2015, UNODC visited the ExMinistry of Cooperatives in Nay Pyi Taw to discuss their plan for establishing a coffee cooperative in collaboration with the Ministry. An agreement was made outlining UNODC’s strategy to use coffee as a cash crop alternative to opium. It also outlined their plan to export coffee to the global premium coffee market through the development of a coffee cooperative.

Under a South-South cooperation programme, UNODC recruited a cooperative specialist with over 25 years’ experience and who was working for a leading coffee producing and exporting cooperative in Peru. The specialist facilitated the formation of the first coffee cooperative named “Green Gold” and the Cooperative Constitution Ceremony was held on July 20, 2015. UNODC further facilitated capacity building through collecting member shares and opening a bank account for the Cooperative at the Cooperative Bank of Taunggyi, Shan State. As of the end of August 2015, 702 coffee farming families with 810 members subscribed to 3990 shares out of the planned 9793 shares. The value of one share is equivalent to 5000 Kyats.

Before these coffee farmers first harvest the corps in November 2017, producers have created the Green Gold Cooperative to manage product commercialization on a communal level.

As a part of a strategy to place its coffee on international markets and with the support of UNODC, Green Gold contacted various stakeholders to raise awareness of the important changes that are ongoing in Shan State in relation to towards the alternative development programmes being implemented there. One of the interested stakeholders was MALONGO, a French roaster company that negotiates with farmers in different countries under fair trade guidelines. UNODC efforts helped conduct the first joint field visit to Shan State between 9 and 11 July, where MALONGO confirmed the social and technical conditions of these coffee producing communities, and explored the possibility of establishing a longterm agreement to contribute to the communities’ development.

In addition to the field visit, three administrative members of Green Gold experienced first-hand the plantations, postharvest infrastructure and headquarters of Bolaven Plateau Coffee Producers Cooperative (C.P.C) in Lao PDR with the support of UNODC and MALONGO. After a 10-year process to successfully reach international markets with their high quality coffee, C.P.C. held expertise as a similar specialized business and had invited Green Gold to share in the knowledge.

As a milestone, on December 7, Green Gold and Malongo Coffee signed a memorandum of understanding in Naypyitaw.

According to the agreement, Malongo will buy coffee from Green Gold, a cooperative of coffee growers from over 60 villages in Hopong, Loilem and Ywangan townships for the next five years.

“We’ll pay higher than the market prices. We’ll buy coffee for five consecutive years. But because it’s meant for the international market, it is important that quality is not compromised,” Jean-Pierre Blanc, executive director of Malongo Coffee said at the signing ceremony.

It has been a challenge to change to coffee farming, to learn fair trade practices with other farmers in the region through knowledge exchanges facilitated by UNODC and MALONGO, and to form a collective to bring their product to market, but the farmers are unanimous that it is the best path to take.

According to Hla Soe, Chairman of Green Gold cooperative, currently, there are 1,245 coffee growers and 953 hectares under coffee cultivation in the three townships.

UNODC is pleased to recognise the important support and partnership of MALONGO. The Malongo Foundation helps growers across the Southern Hemisphere bring fair trade coffee to market, and is instrumental in the sustainable development of communities from Haiti to New Caledonia to the Congo, and now Myanmar. UNODC facilitated visits of MALONGO to South Shan throughout the year, and facilitated meetings with Green Gold.

Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Ye Aung Swe described the program as “an example of what can be achieved when communities come together to prioritize key goals of the Government’s drug policy approach: sustainable alternative development coupled with reducing the supply of illicit drugs.”

Emphasizing the importance the of programme’s commercial viability, UNODC Country Manager Troels Vester commented that “value will be realised and enhanced over time as the Green Gold Cooperative gains organic and Fairtrade certification, as well as the financial independence necessary to keep this programme running in its own right. Commercial success will be a key to helping kick-start similar programmes in other parts of the country.”

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative noted “We see these farms and Green Gold as a start. The fact that we are here today to see over 1000 former opium farmers finalize a deal with a multinational fair-trade coffee company is proof that the investment made over the last three years has been worthwhile. The return on that investment – in terms of people empowered, lives changed, and communities transformed – is impressive.”