The Irrawaddy

French Firm Helps Shan Farmers Turn Poppy to Coffee

Officials from Malongo and Green Gold sign a coffee purchase agreement in Naypyitaw on Thursday. Moe Moe

NAYPYITAW — A coffee growers cooperative in Shan State and a French roasting company signed a memorandum of understanding on Thursday in Naypyitaw that pledges the roaster to buy from the farmers for five years in a bid to combat opium cultivation in the region.

“We’ll pay higher than the market prices. We’ll buy coffee for five consecutive years. But because it’s meant for the international market, it is important that quality is not compromised,” Jean-Pierre Blanc, executive director of Malongo Coffee Co., said at the signing ceremony.

According to the agreement, Malongo will buy coffee from Green Gold, a cooperative of coffee growers from over 60 villages in Hopong, Loilem and Ywangan townships for the next five years.

Since 2014, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has provided assistance, including coffee seeds and technology, to promote poppy substitute cash crops in the region.

According to Green Gold Chairman U Hla Soe, there are now 1,245 coffee growers and 953 hectares under coffee cultivation in the three townships.

“Almost all the inputs including seeds are given to us. We only have to grow on our land, and the production cost is all about labor,” U Sai San Lu, a resident of Sa Nin village, told The Irrawaddy.

“But of the 80 households in our village, only 36 of them grow coffee. The others are not yet interested in it,” he said.

Other coffee growers who attended the signing ceremony spoke of the same situation in their villages, which they attributed to the relative liquidity of poppy, which can be harvested about 100 days after planting. With coffee, farmers must wait three years for the first harvest.

“I am growing 10 acres of coffee now and I still grow about three acres of poppy. You can get a quick return from poppy, usually in 100 days. I can sell opium in my village,” said a grower who asked not to be named.

“Since this is the first [coffee] harvest, the yield is low. Some have chosen to grow coffee because Malongo will buy all the coffee in cooperation with the UNODC. But there are people who chose to continue growing poppy,” said U Khun Sein Tun, from Wankyaung village.

According to the UNODC’s Myanmar Opium Survey 2017, launched earlier this week in Naypyitaw, the area under opium poppy cultivation decreased significantly in 2017 to 41,000 hectares, down 25 percent from the 55,500 hectares recorded in 2015.

Opium production has also decreased 18 percent, from 647 metric tons in 2015 to 550 tons in 2017, according to the report.