- By Koung Mon
It was a bright Spring morning in Paris.
A conference on “A Coffee for Peace and Biodiversity” was organized at the French National Assembly on Friday, 22 March 2019, launching a new line of high-quality coffee, Shan Mountain Coffee, by French coffee company Malongo under the patronage of President Mr. Richard errand of the National Assembly. Mr. Richard errand stressed on international fair practices in trade and food security; and Mr. Christian Jacob, Leader of the Republicans in the National Assembly and former Minister of the Civil Service, spoke about the importance of social progress, ecology and enhancing living conditions while preserving environment for the future.
Then, Mr. Jean-Pierre Blanc, Director-General of Café Malongo, explained how they have involved in the alternative development programme in Shan State of Myanmar. The Malongo Foundation is a well-known institution for helping growers across the southern hemisphere by bringing fair trade coffee to market, and is instrumental in sustainable development of communities from Haiti to New Caledonia to Congo. Finally, Malongo has reached coffee growing communities in southern Shan State of Myanmar! Mr. JP Blanc added that Malongo’s involvement is not about charity or helping coffee producers, it is about business; still, they want to set up another kind of business where producers can live with dignity from their work, where consumers are satisfied with the quality.
Afterwards, Ms. Miwa Cato, Director of Operations for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) programmes, explained how the UNODC has introduced coffee plantation programme in Shan State of Myanmar since 2014 to substitute opium cultivation for sustainable alternative development in the region. “In Shan State, this programme has not only provided livelihoods and increased confidence in governance, but also promoted environmental sustainability, land tenure rights, and contributed to creating an enabling environment for peace,” said Ms Miwa Kato, adding that the partnership between Malongo and the Green Gold Cooperative in Myanmar demonstrates how both public and private interests can merge to benefit small farmer communities.
Myanmar has always considered that a concerted effort is required at the national, regional and global levels to fight against the abuse of illict drugs—production and trafficking of illicit drugs—a legacy of colonial past. In the past, the strategy had been to focus mainly on the destruction of poppy fields. However, in late 1980s, a new approach was launched aiming at social and economic development of the nationalities in the border areas. A 15-year elimination plan was launched in 1999 with the objective of stopping opium poppy cultivation and production by 2014. In the meantime, Myanmar has been cooperating with all her neighbours to harmonize its drugs abuse control endeavours.
The UNODC, a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime, aims to make the world safer from drugs, crime and corruption so that security and justice would be maintained for all, and assists its members in their struggle against illicit drugs, crime and terrorism. The UNODC has been active in Myanmar for more than thirty years, and its current Country Programmes in the country has been developed by UNODC in close consultation with the Government of Myanmar and all stake holders including development partners. A substantial and coherent programme approach was adopted based on project-based experience.
Myanmar has participated in the Global Partnership on Alternative Development Projects, which promotes sustainable livelihoods in several countries under the UNODC programmes. It is a remarkable stepping stone for the community of farmers that has made great strides in keeping themselves free from their dependency on opium poppy cultivation.
Mr. Troels Vester, UNODC Country Manager in Myanmar, said UNODC was proud to have been part of the initiative that developed a brand new premium coffee product as a means for reducing opium production in Myanmar.
Finally, U Khun Maung Htee, Chairman of the Green Gold Cooperative, explained about the brief background of the Cooperative that is comprised of nearly 1,000 farmers across 55 villages as its members. Daw Nan Htwe, a beneficiary farmer and member of Pan Lin village’s quality control committee, recounted how women play their role in the coffee growing business and how responsibilities have been shared with the Cooperative works.
The Green Gold Cooperative is working together with UNODC and Café Malongo to acquire knowledge and expertise about the coffee business, and establish sustainable plantations as a means of income substitution. The Cooperative celebrated a milestone in 2018 by exporting coffee to France as its first European market. This clearly demonstrates that the communities in the coffee plantation area of Shan State will benefit increase in income.
The emergence of Myanmar as a coffee producer is supported by UNODC’s Alternative Development Programme, co-financed by two main donors, Finland and Germany, and with the additional support of Switzerland, which is giving resources directly to the Cooperative. Malongo has entered a five-year partnership with the Green Cold Cooperative and secured business opportunities under fair trade conditions including guaranteed minimum price, social and quality premiums, among others. The strategic partnership between Malongo, the Green Gold Cooperative and the UNODC is a key to bringing peace, prosperity and sustainable development to the region.
Whether the Malongo is merely helping coffee producers or making charity, it is playing an important role in making Shan Coffee popular among European markets, especially at Malongo stores in Paris and Nice, hence contributing to the sustainable development of the people in the coffee plantation areas of Shan State, Myanmar.
As Daw Nan Htwe has rightly said on the occasion, if she kept on growing opium, she would not even imagine to visit Europe; now, with growing coffee (in place of poppy) as an alternative crop, she was able to visit Paris, the capital city of France, and to be specific, was able to speak at the French National Assembly.
Women who are participating in the programme as farmers, village level committee members and representatives in the governing bodies of the Green Gold Cooperative, are playing a crucial role. Despite some important advances, women still face challenges as farmers, community leaders, and mothers.
Challenges remain. It is the beginning of a lengthy path towards peace, progress and sustainable development. Still, it clearly demonstrates that when people change their mindset, receive support from friends around the world, and assistance from international organisations like UNODC, can transform a way of life, means of livelihood, along with new income source; thus turning a new chapter of life!