Former opium producers start exporting coffee to Europe

Coffee farmer Nang Htwe from Pan Lim village, Shan State, was paid double the Myanmar market average for her harvest of coffee this month. Photo: UNODC

A cooperative of former poppy growers in southern Shan State exported their first shipment of coffee to the European market last week, marking a victory for efforts in Myanmar to reduce the supply of illicit drugs through sustainable alternative development.

The Green Gold cooperative was established by 968 farmers in 2015 and received guidance from UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on coffee growing and marketing. Last year, the French coffee company Malongo signed a five-year distribution deal with Green Gold for its entire crop.

On Oct. 12, Green Gold exported its first shipment through the Malongo deal. The coffee, worth US$35,000, was grown in 60 villages across Loilem, Hopong, and Ywangan townships. In one community, Pan Lim, the beans were of such high quality that Malongo bought them for US$8 per kilo – double the market average in Myanmar.

With the help of UNODC and funding from several foreign governments, Green Gold is now working on developing its own processing infrastructure so that it can control more links in the value chain for future harvests.

Research by UNODC has found a strong correlation between insecurity and opium cultivation, but it also shows that given a choice, communities currently producing opium would want a different source of income and a future away from the cycle of instability that it brings.

Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative, said when Green Gold signed its deal with Malongo last year: “We see these farms and Green Gold as a start. The fact that we are here today to see over 1,000 former opium farmers finalize a deal with a multinational fair-trade coffee company is proof that the investment made over the last three years has been worthwhile. The return on that investment – in terms of people empowered, lives changed, and communities transformed – is impressive.”

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