Thursday, May 11, 2006

 

Another Successful Season!

We can officially say that the first Fair Trade certified product has shipped from Laos! On April 7, the Jhai Coffee Farmer Cooperative shipped a container of Arabica Typica to Thanksgiving Coffee in Northern California. They sampled the coffee and gave glowing reviews - so much so that I didn't believe them at first. How did we celebrate? A whole lot of Beer Lao and rice whisky and one first class hangover.

The end of the season, of course, means lots of clean up, equipment storage, wrapping up accounting reports and preparing samples for new customers. We completed payment on the harvest finance loan to our new financing partner, Rabobank Foundation, and look forward to growing our production with their support. The farmers participated in a professional cupping program at the local coffee research center, and despite alot of choking, gasping and laughter they appreciated the chance to taste their own work.

As we come to the end of May, the co-op is focused on two new developments. The first is a program to work with robusta coffee beans, which make up over 70% of the farmers' coffee harvest. With the support of Tony Marsh, a UN FAO technical coffee advisor, we are pursuing a grant from New Zealand AID to buy equipment and provide training for the farmers.

Even if we don't get the funding, we will still pursue a smaller project with the goal of producing one container of specially prepared robusta for the coming harvest. Robusta is known as the low end bean used in instant coffee; however, in Laos, this tree grows at a high elevation and when combined with a special processing method, the resulting coffee is considered one of the smoothest robustas in the world.

The second development is a redesign of the production for the co-op. After six years of training member farmers, the JCFC leadership has made the decision to decentralize the processing of coffee - getting the farmers more involved and giving them greater ownership. We have the great privilege of having a new consultant working with us to advise on this change. Her name is Emma Townsend-Gault, and she has been busy in village development efforts in Southern Laos for the past couple years.

Fluent in Lao and with a real affinity for Lao culture, Emma brings a much needed dimension to the limited skills of yours truly. Emma is also in the midst of opening a new bar in Pakse, so if you find yourself in the area, look up the Riverbar. I promise you a great frozen margarita with a rice whiskey chaser!

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