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US church's agriculture project helps poor in Laos

First Free Church has supported Laotian farmers to produce nutrition-packed seeds to overcome poverty

US church's agriculture project helps poor in Laos

The First Free Church, an evangelical church based in the US, has helped hundreds of Laotian farmers to overcome poverty by cultivating Sacha inchi, a nutrition-packed seed. (Photo: www.omegoodness.com

Published: December 02, 2021 11:23 AM GMT

Updated: December 02, 2021 01:13 PM GMT

An agricultural project supported by the First Free Church, a US-based evangelical church, has turned into an international enterprise, creating much-needed employment and income for thousands of poor people in Laos.

About 30,000 pounds of food products including nutrition-packed seeds called Sacha inchi have arrived in the Coulee Region in southwest Wisconsin from Laos, reports La Crosse Tribune.

The seeds are approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the US government and marketed under a trade entity called Omegoodness.

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Sacha inchi is popularly called a “superfood” as it contains high protein and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Over the past 10 years, the seeds have been cultivated and processed in Laos thanks to a mission of the church.

“About 2,000 farmers are growing the seeds and this affects around 10,000 lives,” explained Charlie Dee, spokesman for the First Free Church in Onalaska.

By bringing biblical values like hope, honesty and trust, the people have benefited

“It’s a high-value crop. And because of the revenue it generates, it acts as a buffer so that children don’t get trafficked.”

Apart from creating employment and income for impoverished rural families, the initiative has helped them to get rid of human traffickers who enslave their daughters in the sex trade and sons in the fishing industry.

Dee also added that profits from the enterprise helped hundreds of families to raise their standard of living.

The agriculture enterprise came into being 10 years ago when Dee and his wife worked on private agriculture development projects in Southeast Asia. The couple found many rural Laotians were struggling badly against endemic poverty.

During that time, French surgeon Dr. Phillipe Schmidt discovered the high value of Sacha inchi. The two then decided to venture into an agriculture enterprise to assist poor Laotian farmers.

With support from the missions department of the First Free Church, Dee and his team encouraged farmers to grow Sacha inchi, which could fetch them three times more profits than traditional rice.

A factory was set up in Laotian capital Vientiane to process the seeds and to make a variety of products including protein powder, granola and Omega-3 oil. It’s even mixed with chocolate.

Asians living in La Crosse city in western Wisconsin have also highly appreciated the products such as solar dried bananas and the Mack Khen spice.

In June, Peter Haymond, US ambassador to Laos, attended the first shipment to the US and termed the plant as “the cleanest manufacturing facility” he had seen in Laos.

The agricultural project has also empowered rural Laotians culturally.

“The Lao people have very low trust because of their past history,” explained Dee, adding that businesses never grew larger than the immediate family because outsiders just couldn’t be trusted.

“By bringing biblical values like hope, honesty and trust, the people have benefited,” he said.

It also announced that it will provide one protein bar to needy children in Laos for every one dollar of profit

Over the years, the First Free Church has supported the project by sending in talent, expertise and finances.

Despite being financially profitable, Omegoodness emphasizes a humanitarian approach. It distributes protein bars to homeless Laotians and poor children who suffer from stunting or diminished brain development due to lack of protein.

It also announced that it will provide one protein bar to needy children in Laos for every one dollar of profit.

Laos is a Southeast Asian Buddhist-majority nation of seven million ruled by a communist regime. According to a World Bank report 2020, about 18 percent of Laotians live below the poverty line.

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