Villagers and casual labourers working in the chruch-run coffee plantation
A Church run project to turn Akhas and Lahu tribal villagers in the east of the country away from poppy cultivation by growing coffee is starting to reap some rewards.
According to Father Stephen Ano, director Karuna Kengtung Social Service , villagers around Pan Que Hill in Kengtung diocese’s Loi-mwe parish are building a new livelihood thanks to a coffee plantation expert from Thailand who taught them how to grow the crop in 2009.
Villagers stopped cultivating poppies after the authorities began cracking down on the heroin trade; however, it left them without an income.
Father Ano said Karuna launched the coffee project as a viable alternative.
He said initially Karuna didn’t know how to go about establishing a plantation until the Thai expert told us there would be no problem since the local soil was the same as that on plantations in Thailand.
A Thai businessman sold us the seeds, so we started a nursery to grow coffee plants which we sell to villagers to grow to get a crop, Father Ano said.
Karuna says each small coffee plant sells for 200 kyat (US$ 2 cents) with a bag of fertilizer and 120 kyat (US$ 1 cent) without the fertilizer.
Alphonse Win Khine 50, who is in charge of the project, said it aims not only to help in the development of the villagers but also Karuna and its staff.
Win Khine said that currently 200 Catholic villagers and 23 Karuna staff are taking part in the nursery program.
They need to contribute only labor - working and taking care of the plants - since we give them technical support, he said.
One Catholic parishioner Daw Ah Phe, 62, said it is by God’s grace she got the chance to take part in this program as everything is so difficult these days and everyone has to struggle for their livelihood.
“I believe we will have the chance to escape from poverty and will be able to raise our children well. And in the near future, we will have a good income and be able to help support the Church,” she said.
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