Case study: From opium to organic coffee - The new hope for Houaphanh farmers
The ‘four Cs’ – COVID, climate, conflict and cost-of-living – greatly tested small businesses around the world and set back the Sustainable Development Goals. This case study, from the ITC Annual Report 2022, highlights how the International Trade Centre helped entrepreneurs find new ways to prosperity through trade.
The north-eastern province of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Houaphanh, is located in one of the world’s major opium-producing regions. The residents of the region’s remote villages have relied heavily on opium poppy cultivation for decades. Poverty, marginalization and lack of alternative sources of income drive the cultivation of opium, and opium-growing communities are seeking new and sustainable income opportunities. Spearheading this shift is the Vanmai community, which began a transition to coffee in 2016, supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The Vanmai Coffee Cooperative, which UNODC supports, helps the residents of Houaphanh Province end the circle of poverty and opium addiction, while improving the quality of their lives. So far, the project has empowered almost 400 local farmers from 12 villages to independently process and commercialize their coffee for premium international markets. The cooperative exported more than 19 tons of coffee to France in 2021.
Coffee demand is expected to exceed production, with growing demand for high-quality coffee – including organic coffee, which is sold at a premium price. The market for organic coffee reached $6.8 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach $12.6 billion by 2026. However, introducing and executing organic concepts to the farmers in Houaphanh Province has its challenges.
‘I understand the basics of organic farming, for example, not using chemicals. But it is harder to obtain a deeper and more technical knowledge, which involves a growing environment such as land, air and water as well as using only organic fertilizers like manure or compost,’ says Tee Yangbliakeng, manager of Vanmai Coffee Cooperative.
In 2021 and 2022, Yangbliakeng participated in training offered by ITC in the Lao PDR: ASEAN Regional Integration Support (Laos-ARISE Plus) project as part of the country’s Coffee Sector Export Roadmap. The training provided valuable lessons about organic production, processing, marketing and organic certification.
The training also supported local farmers in the cooperatives who face inevitable natural challenges such as coffee pests and climate change, which affect coffee cultivation and thus production and exporting capacity.
The cooperative recently received a licence to trade in Fairtrade products. Yangbliakeng’s hope for his local community is to end opium cultivation and escape poverty. He believes that more members of Vanmai Coffee Cooperative will eventually be able to apply for organic certifications and reach more premium markets, which will increase their income sustainably. The journey of the Vanmai community to end poverty by transitioning from opium to organic coffee as a sustainable income alternative has truly begun.