The farmers in Keoset were fortunate that their coffee crop was harvested, processed and sold before the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Now that the lockdown has been lifted, it’s a good time to share experience.
In mid July 2020, coffee farmers and buyers from across the North of Laos came together in Phonsavanh, Xieng Khouang Province, for a three-day meeting organised by the RECoSeL, a French-funded project that is supporting the “Reinforcement and Expansion of Coffee Sector in Laos”.
Coffee farmers from Ban Tantai, one of the most productive villages in the Keoset area, delivered 500 kg of green bean to their buyer in Vientiane today. Mr Xay, who is responsible for quality control in his production group, travelled with LURAS advisers to the capital, where Comma Coffee examined the beans and roasted samples for a taste test. After some serious discussion, Mr Xay (wearing a blue shirt in the photos below) was able to enjoy a refreshing glass of nitro coffee at the Comma Reading Room.
The best quality Arabica coffee is grown at higher altitudes, above 1,000 metres, but this makes the crop vulnerable to cold temperatures. Coffee bushes are easily damaged or killed by frost, resulting in a loss of income for farmers.
Climate change is increasing the risk of extreme weather, and coffee farmers in the North of Laos have experienced frost twice in the past 5 years. The amount of damage has been different from place to place, depending on where the crop is planted. The experience in Keoset shows that coffee planted in natural forest is less vulnerable that coffee planted in the open.
This video in Lao language has more information from the farmers who were affected in December 2019.
Coffee Berry Borer (CBB) is a tiny pest that affects coffee plants throughout the world, including Laos. Coffee cherries or beans that are damaged by this pest may be rejected by buyers, or farmers will get a lower price . Fortunately, the pest can be controlled if farmers take the right action during and after harvest.
A new poster has been produced by the Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service (LURAS) to help farmers learn how to control CBB. The poster is available for everybody involved in coffee production in the North of Laos: farmer groups, district agriculture staff, development projects and coffee companies. Copies are available from the LURAS offices in Phonsavanh and Vientiane. Alternatively, you can print and distribute yourself; just click on the picture to download the file.
The harvest has started in Keoset and farmers are on track to more than double their production of organic Arabica coffee. At the same time, visitors from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) came to see how these high quality beans are processed. SDC support for coffee production in Keoset goes back nearly 10 years, when the farmers of Keoset received training under the Small-scale Agro-enterprise Development in the Uplands (SADU) Project. In cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, SDC is now supporting further improvements in coffee production and processing through the Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service (LURAS), with the private sector playing an important role in providing advice and incentives that help farmers improve both the quantity and quality of their coffee.
The SDC visitors included, Mr. Jean-François Cuénod, the new Regional Director of Cooperation for the Mekong Region. Also in the group were Mr. Christian Engler, Deputy Regional Director and Head of the Agriculture and Food Security Domain, and Ms. Mila Marie Lomarda, Regional Advisor for Disaster Risk Reduction. All of them were able to enjoy a delicious cup of Keoset coffee after observing the hard work being carried out in Pieng and Tantai villages.
These guidelines are based on our experience as coffee farmers in Xieng Khuang Province. We have been growing forest coffee in the Keoset Cluster of villages for nearly 20 years. During that time we have received advice and support from the government, projects and companies, but the most valuable knowledge and skills comes from our own practical activities, including planting, composting, pruning, processing, drying and selling our coffee.
We want to share our experience with other farmers, and have already welcomed hundreds of visitors to our coffee farms and processing centres. These guidelines provide a summary of the techniques we have been using, and we encourage you to select and adapt this information to suit your local conditions. We hope this information will be beneficial for many other coffee producers.
With best wishes from the farmers of Ban Pieng, Ban Phahin, Ban Phoung, Ban Tan Tai and Ban Tan Neua
Copies of the new guidelines are available from the LURAS project offices in Vientiane and Phonsavanh, and the Department of Technical Extension and Agro-Processing (DTEAP).
The coffee farmers of Keoset have chosen a new logo for their products. The new design has similar elements as before, showing the hands of farmers working together to produce coffee. However, the logo now has a simpler design, bolder colours and the initials ‘KS’ in the branches of the tree, making it easier to recognise when used on packaging.
Maintaining a strong identity for Keoset coffee is one way to ensure that farmers continue to receive a premium price for their product. This is the thinking behind ‘single-origin coffee’, similar to the marketing of wine, or other drinks and foods that come from a specific geographic area and have characteristic qualities.
Keoset coffee comes from a cluster of 5 villages in Khoun District of Xieng Khouang Province. The coffee is an Arabica cultivar known as Catimor, grown under natural forest at an elevation of between 1,100 and 1,400 metres. When processed and roasted, the coffee reaches Specialty Grade A according to SCA standards. Quality experts have described the wash-processed beans as having a bright acidity, clean body and nutty flavor with notes of jasmine tea. The natural-processed coffee has more complex flavor notes including jasmine tea, pear, brown sugar and chocolate.
Coffee producers from Keoset participated in the celebration of International Coffee Day, which was held in the historic city of Luang Prabang on 12th October.
Farmers from two Keoset villages – Ban Pieng and Tan Tai – travelled 300 km to prepare their booth with assistance from staff of the Khoun District Agriculture and Forestry Office and the Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service (LURAS). On display at the Heuan Chan Heritage Centre were green beans produced by the farmers in addition to finished products that are sold by Comma Coffee and Mueang Xieng Coffee.
Among the hundreds of visitors to the Keoset booth was Mr. Thongsavanh Phanthalavong, the Deputy Director General of the Department of Technical Extension and Agro-Processing (DTEAP) who can be seen here talking to Mrs Chandy Khamouan, Head of the Ban Pieng coffee farmers group, and Mrs Siphanh Phommavong, who is responsible for coffee development at the District Agriculture and Forestry Office (DAFO).
Lots of interest was shown in a new set of coffee production manuals that have been produced by LURAS based on the experience of the farmers in Keoset. Copies were requested by other farmers, including representatives of groups from as far away as Phongsaly and Champassak. These illustrated technical guidelines in Lao Language will soon be available for general distribution.
The success and sustainability of investments in the coffee sector depends on the next generation of farmers. This video was made at a forum of young farmers held in the Keoset Community in February 2019.
With the latest coffee harvest coming to an end in the Keoset Cluster of villages, the Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service (LURAS) has summarised some of lessons that are being learned. This presentation was made at meetings of the Lao Coffee Board and the Working Group on Farmers and Agribusiness.