Lao coffee has 100 years of history. The following information comes from the website of the Lao Coffee Association:
The beginnings of coffee in Laos (1920-1950)
The first coffee plantations in the Bolaven Plateau were set up around 1920 by French settlers alongside the roads built by the colonial administration. Coffee rapidly became the main crop in the area, especially after the construction of a research center near Paksong in 1930. At that time, settlers grew exclusively arabica trees of Bourbon and Typica varieties. The coffee obtained was then mainly exported to France with a very high-quality image.
War and coffee sector decline (1950-1975)
From 1950 onwards, several external factors triggered a decline of the coffee sector in Laos. First, there was the dismantling of coffee marketing network when planters, investors and traders fled the area because of the recurrent conflicts. At the same time, colonial arabica plantations were being severely damaged by recurrent frosts and more particularly by leaf rust disease attacks which led to the progressive replacement of Arabica trees with newly introduced species, mainly Robusta.
The state-controlled coffee sector (1975-1990)
After 1975 and the end of the war, native farmers as well as new settlers from the lowlands started to reoccupy the abandoned lands in the Boloven Plateau. At the same time, the government program of collectivization included the creation of coffee production and trading cooperatives with trading and exporting controlled by national authorities.
Market liberalization and the resurgence of Arabica (1990-2007)
In the late 80’s, under the New Economic Mechanism regime (NEM), the coffee sector was progressively liberalized and private operators started to play an important role once again. The sector was given a boost in the 90’s due to frosts in Brazil – the leading coffee producing country – and the devaluation of Lao Kip against the US dollar.
The emergence new coffee cooperative (2007-present day)
Created in 2007 with the support of the Lao government and the French Development Agency (AFD), the “Bolaven Plateau Coffee Producers Cooperative” or CPC (formerly known as AGPC) consists of about 1,855 coffee growing households spread in 55 villages. In 2012, CPC exported 603 tons of green coffee and was recognized as “Laos Best coffee exporter” based on price and quality. The organization is now continuing to grow, with exports exceeding 1,000 tons of green beans per year, while also acting as as source of inspiration and expertise for other farmer groups.
“We planted our coffee trees in 2009 and harvested the first cherries in 2014. Throughout the production cycle, we face different problems. The worst was the frost of 2015, which almost killed our trees. We received material and training, but not enough monitoring and coaching support. In the past, we were often left on ourselves. The market was also not stable: only a few traders, coming on an irregular basis. That is why farmers did not take care of their coffee plantations.
“In 2016, we were introduced to Café Meuang Xiang (a local company) as a potential buyer. We then got support from LURAS to visit the activities of the Coffee Producers’ Cooperative (CPC) in Champasack Province. We learnt a lot from this visit: proper management of coffee trees, how to improve the soil fertility, harvest and processing techniques with a wet processing plant, how to work as a group. We stayed at their homes and we practiced the daily work they did in their coffee plantations. At our return to Xieng Khouang, we could immediately apply what we learnt from CPC.
“Now, working as a group, we can easily manage technical problems and ensure a better quality of coffee. We also developed the capacity to run our community coffee processing plant. Other farmers have now joined our group. We have gained power in negotiating a better price and we are now sharing our knowledge and experience to new members with confidence.”
Please join the hundreds of people who have watched this recent video about Keoset Community Coffee. Produced by the Lao Upland Rural Advisory Service (LURAS), with filming and editing by Ye Vue.