Greetings from Laos! I am currently travelling Southeast, visiting temples, villages and walking around its astonishing and untouched nature. In this place where cultures and history come together, you can find the little and beautiful Laos, a place where most of the people live respectfully in contact with the environment around them, knowing its gifts and understanding the importance of its preservation.
Still, many of them live with less than a dollar per day and in precarious health conditions; in the most isolated areas, up in the mountains, life could be really hard.
Heading south, in direction of the Cambodian border, I spent few days in the Plateau des Bolovens, home to the largest producer of coffee in the country. I’d better say producers. Formed in 2007 with the support of Lao government and the AFD (Agence Française de Developpement), the “Coopérative des Producteurs de Café du Plateau des Bolovens” (aka CPC) is a clear example of how small producers can take over their destiny, join forces, and organize themselves as a cooperative.
The CPC is the voice of the little farmers of the Plateau and represents its members in front of the government and in each different stage of the coffee supply chain, locally and internationally. Today they can rely on more than 1855 families of coffee producers, living in 55 different villages. Being included in a responsible value chain and producing worldwide recognized high quality coffee has let its components build confidential relationships with the coffee roasters and the international exporters, in order to sell their products with a higher value added. Thanks to the great quality of the green coffee they produce, in 2012 they reached the astronomical amount of 603 tons exported, gaining the title of “Greatest exporter of coffee in Laos”. Since then they haven’t stop growing, selling nowadays more than 1000 tons a year.
Locally named “the source of Lao coffee”, the Plateau de Bolovens is considered the main strength by all the producers in the area. In fact, climatic and geological conditions are perfect for these kinds of plantations, which were introduced by the French settlers more than a century ago. But, once you get there, once you speak with those people and see how they work, you feel these men and women are the real soul of this miracle. You feel that they have found through the cooperative not only a way for living decently off their work, but also a way of deciding for themselves about their will and the will of the community they live in. I can only hope they will grow further in the future, and serve as an example for others to follow.
*The cooperative and its members are officially certified with the fair-trade mark since 2009. This certifies the democratic and transparent management of the organization and also that the CPC contributes in the social and economic development of the region, thanks to the sharing of the means of production and the promotion of socially responsible projects. Moreover, all the coffee produced by the CPC is merchandised with the biological agriculture trademark in Asia, Europe and North America. This certifies that any member of the CPC utilizes chemical ingredients or pesticides in the production of their products.