Tuesday, June 20, 2006

 

Getting Ready for The Rainy Season

The JCFC is deep into the off-season now, and it’s time for weddings, harvesting cabbage, weeding the coffee fields and preparing for the multi days showers of the rainy season. The coffee crop for the coming season is shaping up nicely, but as always we are prepared for anything. The rains came early this year and the major flowerings were pretty flawless. This sould result in a huge, and early, harvest. Normally the farmers start the daily trek to their coffee farms in November to pick the coffee, but this year they may start as early as the beginning of October.

I have been working closely with our General Manager, Ariya, and Finance Manager, Sinn, to prepare for the big changes this year. We have plans to create for everything from a new micro-lending facility to changes in the production process. We do most of this work in Pakse, which is the closest major business center to the coffee area. We are very excited about the new Beer Lao plant going up on the outskirts of town.

In between my trips to Laos, I hole up in a villa close to Jumeira Beach here in Dubai. My lovely girlfriend of six months has taken a job with a flash commercial development company and I’ve tagged along – turns out I'm not such a bad cook! Along with snowboarding at the local indoor ski slope, I’ve been busy compiling the financial reports from this year’s harvest, filing the annual Fair Trade certification application and helping our partner Thanksgiving Coffee (http://www.thanksgivingcoffee.com/) build out their Lao coffee sales and promotion campaign. If you haven’t tried the coffee yet and you’re actually reading this blog, well, go buy some Lao coffee!

The crew in Laos has been busy with preparations for the coming year. They met with the Asia manager for Rabobank Foundation, an organization that provides the co-op harvest financing. Not only is the bank happy with our progress, but they have offered to help us set up a micro-lending program during the rainy season. This is a huge offer: currently a large number of our farmers run out of money during the summer, and they have to go to local traders to get loans against their coffee. The local traders effectively charge 100% interest for four months! Our program will charge the farmer a simple 7-9% interest until we receive their coffee – a fair market deal for the farmer.

Emma and Ariya have also been busy working with the farmer members to restructure the coffee program. This is a major undertaking and we suspect it will take two to three years to complete. The JCFC Board of Directors has decided that for long term success, the co-op needs to get the farmers as involved as possible in the processing of coffee. The more responsibility the farmers have in producing the product, the better. Some of the larger farmers have a real interest in this but the smaller farmers will take more time to understand the benefits. Of course the industrious Mr. Sinn, our staff accountant, labors day and night to keep our books in order in our temporary office in Pakse.

We should have a new permanent office in Pakse starting in September at the back of the soon to be opened Riverbar. Proximity to the bar wasn’t the only consideration. We hope to build up a small tourism business based at the bar to bring additional income to the coffee farmers. We also hope that a some cold BeerLaos won’t hurt our chances to sell a few more containers of green beans to visiting traders.

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