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Former opium farmers begin planting coffee as alternative crop

Sam Neua (Lao PDR), 1 August 2017
- The districts of Xamtai, Xone and Kuan in Lao PDR have begun planting coffee seedlings in a culmination of over an year of work between UNODC and local authorities in the Huapanh province to introduce coffee as an alternative cash crop to opium. To commemorate the occasion, local authorities from each district arranged planting ceremonies where farmers, project officials and local government officials held discussions and jointly placed seedlings into the ground.

In November 2015, approximately 250 farmers initiated the transition from opium to coffee by establishing coffee nursery beds. Since then, these farmers have nurtured their nurseries and prepared plots under the guidance of technical experts from the project. Local governments are actively supporting UNODC, with local staff from the District Agriculture and Forestry Offices working side-by-side with project extensionists to provide daily supervision and guidance to farmers.

"Coffee is a high value cash-crop with a potential to replace opium cultivation in these areas", explained Mr. Phath Marnachith from the Provincial Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (PCDC). "Farmers in the Golden Triangle currently produce around one-fifth of the world's opium. In Lao PDR, opium production uses almost 6000 hectares of land and is concentrated in the highlands of northern districts."

"Opium farmers are generally poor and marginalised," said UNODC Programme Manager Erlend Audunson Falch. "They severely need alternative and sustainable sources of income, and we are trying to help them with that."

"We believe coffee has great potential not only for the villages that are already included in the project, but also for other villages in our district," said Ms. Sengphet Lukham-in from the Xamtai district party standing committee, at the ceremony. Similarly, Mr. Voneseng Houangphanxay from the Xone district party committee emphasised that coffee is strategically prioritised because of its international market and use of production methods that depart from the environmentally-destructive cultivation currently practiced by many. In Kwan, District Governor Mr. Maikham Phimmasone urged farmers to follow technical advice given by coffee experts. Consistent with local socio-economic development plans, all districts identified coffee as a priority crop.

Coffee was selected as a key intervention in the project due to its local suitability and income-generating potential. Furthermore, southern Lao has already established a substantial coffee industry that can provide expertise and infrastructure, as well as facilitate market access. Accordingly, the project has the cooperation of the National Coffee Research Centre (NCRC) to ensure that farmers have access to the technology and knowledge required to produce high-quality beans.

The project is funded by the United States and Luxembourg, and provides each farmer with the material inputs and technical guidance needed to establish one hectare of coffee plantation. It also plans to help the farmers establish organisations to ensure long-term sustainability. Through this cooperative, farmers would be able to process their products and create their own links to national and international markets. In addition to coffee, the project also works with local authorities to treat drug users and introduce improved livestock management techniques.

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