Quality crop ensures good income for Xieng Khuang coffee growers

LAOS (VIEINTIANE TIMES) – Growers in Keoset cluster villages, a group of coffee producers in Khoun district of Lao PDR, earn 4,000 kip per kg of cherries and 40,000 kip per kg if they process the cherries and sell them as green coffee beans. Meanwhile, the price of coffee cherries in the south of Laos recently fell below 2,000 kip per kg.

This is less than the cost of the labour required for picking, which led some farmers to replace their coffee trees with other crops in the hope of making a better living. According to the website laocoffeeproductprice.la, red Arabica coffee beans sold for the highest price at 3,200 kip per kg in December, and the lowest price of 1,500 kip per kg in October.

White Arabica beans fetched a high of 16,500 kip per kg, while the lowest price paid was 15,000 kip per kg.

Xieng Khuang coffee growers are doing so well because of the high demand from the numerous cafes in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. The farmers have a good relationship with their buyers, who help them produce superior quality beans to meet the needs of discerning consumers.

Coffee farmers in the Keoset cluster in Khoun district are now working with two companies – Meuang Xieng Coffee and Comma Coffee – which supply cafes in Laos in collaboration with the Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service (LURAS).

A worker handling coffee cherries. PHOTO: VIEINTIANE TIMES

These two companies have provided training in processing techniques and grading, which enables farmers to get a higher price. According to the National Project Director of LURAS Souvanthong Namvong the benefits of commercial agriculture depend on market conditions and the relationship between small farmers and the companies that buy their products.

“If farmers and companies work together to produce high quality coffee for niche markets, the benefits will be far greater than producing ordinary coffee that goes to global markets,” he said. “The same situation exists for many other farm products such as tea, vegetables and rice,” he noted, adding that the profit depends on quality not just quantity, and cooperation with the private sector is essential if farmers are to achieve the requisite standards.

The Head of the Coffee Farmers’ group in Keoset Chandy said her group and other companies are now partnering to work together, learn together, and benefit together. “This is different from coffee traders in the past, who would come and go, and who provided no advice or support,” she said. Keoset has now become a ‘learning centre’ for other coffee farmers in northern Laos.

Several hundred small-scale producers have visited the coffee gardens and processing centre in Keoset to learn how to achieve the same quality and hope to make the same profits as these farmers do in Xieng Khuang.

Located in northeastern Laos, Xieng Khuang is rich in natural resources and ethnic diversity.

The Keoset cluster of villages is home to 200 families who have been growing coffee for more than a decade.

The climate and geography of Xieng Khuang provides the perfect conditions to produce high-quality Arabica coffee.

The farmers of Keoset grow their coffee in natural forest at elevations between 1,100 and 1,400 metres.

Recently they have been working with LURAS to improve both the quality and quantity of their coffee beans. LURAS is implemented by the Department of Technical Extension and Agro-Processing, and Helvetas, an International NGO, with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).