Shan State (Myanmar), 2 August 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, Green Gold this week became the first coffee cooperative in Myanmar to be awarded Fairtrade Certification.
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. The cooperative 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, as Fairtrade encourages the protection of children and prohibits child labour. Fairtrade also promotes teamwork and values as such solidarity and responsibility, 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 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 promotes organic agriculture, agroforestry systems and prohibits dangerous pesticides and GMO products.