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Coffee growers in Myanmar receive a fair deal

Originally published by UNIC Yangon

Shan State (Myanmar), 31 July 2019 - Moe Ohn cannot stop grinning as she picks the ruby-red coffee beans of the bushes in Shan State. The future after all, seems much brighter. Moe Ohn, who is from Htant Hpa Yar village in Hopong township, belongs to a cooperative: Green Gold. Thanks to the hard work of farmers like Moe Ohn, yesterday, Green Gold learned that they had been awarded Fairtrade Certification - the first coffee cooperative in Myanmar to do so.

Green Gold was founded in 2015 with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the governments of Finland, Germany and Switzerland. Green Gold is located in Southern Shan state, a region known for conflict and being one of the highest producers of opium in the world. Green Gold is made of almost 1000 small-scale farmers who used to grow opium. They come from both the Shan and Pao ethnic groups, who have historically been in conflict with one another. Today though, these farmers, including Moe Ohn, are working together to grow high quality arabica coffee beans.

This coffee is going places, literally. The coffee Moe Ohn and her fellow farmers have picked, was served at the Parliament in France this March. Green Gold has partnered with Malongo, a French coffee company to sell the coffee in Europe.

For Moe Ohn and her family, Fairtrade certification guarantees they receive a fair price for their coffee. The farmers also receive an additional premium which can be used as direct investment for social benefits (schools, roads, health centers, etc.) in their communities. This premium can also be invested for the strengthening of the cooperative itself or to improve the productive conditions.

All the farmers have the same responsibilities, same decision power and the same number of votes. All members must know what the aim of the cooperative is and know basic principles of Fairtrade standards. They are involved in all steps of the production, since cooperatives must provide services to its members, including processing facilities, technical assistance and help to sell the final product. The empowerment of members and reaching financial autonomy of the cooperative is key.

Moe Ohn, and other women in the cooperative like Moe Du, Nang Htwe and Nang Lon, directly benefit from Fairtrade certification. Under Fairtrade conditions, women are empowered and there is progress towards gender equity in all the levels of the organization and on the farms. Their children will not be subject to work in the fields; after all, Fairtrade encourages the protection of the children and prohibits child labour. Fairtrade promotes the teamwork with human values as such solidarity, responsibility and the compliance of the norms among others. Environmental and health issues are reduced because there is an increase in knowledge and awareness about the proper management of chemicals in the plantations.

"We in UNODC are thrilled that Green Gold has received the certification and recognize the importance of working with farmers to develop sustainable livelihood alternatives to opium poppy cultivation", says Troels Vester, Country Manager of UNODC Myanmar. In addition to supporting the cooperative to achieve the Fairtrade conditions required for certification, UNODC has also supported the farmers to obtain of land ownership certificates including women's access to land ownership, and forestry education. Opium farming caused severe deforestation in Shan State, so UNODC has worked to educate farmers on sustainable forest management and reforesting 700 hectares of valuable forest species.

For the coffee aficionado, Fairtrade provides an assurance that the coffee that is consumed is ethical and traceable. All coffee is sourced from the cooperative's members and the quality is guaranteed. Fairtrade certification promote organic agriculture, agroforestry systems and they prohibit dangerous pesticides and GMO products.

For the farmers in the Shan State, they now have an alternative to growing opium, a produce that had given Shan State a bad name. Fairtrade helps to meet a number of the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 1: No Poverty, Goal 5: Gender Equality, Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, Goal 12 Responsible Consumption and Production, and Goal 16 Peace Justice and Strong Institutions. For producers as well as consumers, contributing to Fairtrade is a badge of honour. The small-scale farmers benefit from trading and farming practices that they have not experienced before. For the consumer, it is a responsible way of helping to contribute to more sustainable livelihoods and a cleaner environment. Waking up to smell Myanmar coffee now has a deeper meaning and an uplifting aroma. The coffee that Moe Ohn produces is ready to take on the world by storm.