Switching from opium to coffee: 1000 farmers forge a new path forward in Myanmar

Nay Pyi Taw (Myanmar), 7 December 2017
- Over 1000 farmers in South Shan Myanmar have made the switch from opium to coffee, and in an important step for sustainable alternative development have today announced a contract with a major buyer from Europe.

Research by UNODC has found a strong correlation between insecurity 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.

In 2014, UNODC began working with farmers in Taunggyi, South Shan to make the transition from opium to sustainable, high value coffee, and three years later the project has seen their communities transformed in remarkable fashion. Today is a milestone as the local farming collective signed a distribution agreement with French coffee company MALONGO for the entire crop.

It has been a challenge to change to coffee farming, to learn fairtrade 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.

UNODC is pleased to recognise the important support and partnership of MALONGO. The Malongo Foundation helps growers across the Southern Hemisphere bring fairtrade 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.

The Green Gold Cooperative was established to help these communities negotiate a good price for their crop, and deserves significant credit for the success on the ground.

Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Ye Aung 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 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 finalise a deal with a multinational fairtrade 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."

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on drugs and precursors.

Click here to learn more about the Mekong MOU.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on sustainable alternative development.