Farmers Like Her: Surpassing Opium Proves Personal As Coffee Grows in Northern Laos’ Huaphan Province

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Coffee farmer Ms Her from Huaphan.
Coffee farmer Ms Her from Huaphan.
Bringing fresh hope and a hot coffee like a brand new day, Vanmai Coffee is a community of families in Northern Laos, growing coffee in a bid to leave behind troubles of opium, conflict, and poverty.
Ms Her has a cheeky smile and a weathered grin may remind you of one of your own Aunties. The mother of four’s visage is hearty enough to put a smile on your face like a strong and flavourful morning cup of coffee.
Farmers Switching From Opium Poppies to Coffee Beans in Laos' Huaphan Province with Vanmai Coffee
Farmers Switching From Opium Poppies to Coffee Beans in Laos’ Huaphan Province with Vanmai Coffee

Emerging from around the corner on a cool day among the clouds with a smile, its a warm greeting among the young coffee trees at the cool and high elevations of Laos’ northern Huaphan province.

It’s not only the trees that are growing up. The coffee farming industry up year is younger than the grower.

Producing the popular bean-containing cherries essential to the bittersweet brew is a relatively new pursuit in these hilly parts.

In fact, the trees are so young they are yet to produce their first harvest, which can be expected following the third monsoon, proving that farming truly can be an investment in a more hopeful future.

The previous crop up here?

Opium poppies.

 

 

Farmers Like Ms Her Switching From Opium Poppies to Coffee Beans in Laos' Huaphan Province with Vanmai Coffee
Farmers Like Ms Her Switching From Opium Poppies to Coffee Beans in Laos’ Huaphan Province with Vanmai Coffee

A source of both pain-relief and the suffering of dependency and its side effects, the sap producing opium poppy has been an economic staple, a source of income for many of the hardworking farmers of Huaphan for generations.

For some, like Her’s husband, the substance was to prove a fatal addiction.

Listening to her words and the dangers becomes of dependency on the illicit trade become clear.

“Opium has taken away our lives, it took my husband.”

“I mean I never knew that I would end up here,” she reveals.

“I got married to a handsome man in my village.”

“He was a diligent man who knew how to earn money and make sure his family had enough food.

“I loved him and I was happy, we never got married but we stayed together.

“After we got the news that I had given birth to a baby boy, everyone was so happy.

“In our tribe, a son is a gift who will be a successor of the father.

“Our families were so happy that my first child was a son, my husband was also very happy, our life was going very well.

“I then gave birth to two daughters and a son after that as well.

“We had four children who helped us and we worked together as a family like other families in our community.

“We made a living farming together and worked on saving for our children and their education.”

Farmers Like Ms Her Switching From Opium Poppies to Coffee Beans in Laos' Huaphan Province with Vanmai Coffee
Farmers Like Ms Her Switching From Opium Poppies to Coffee Beans in Laos’ Huaphan Province with Vanmai Coffee
 
 “But once my husband got addicted to opium, our lives changed.

“He became a different husband and a different father. After a while he couldn’t even work because he was ill so often.

“The family situation got worse. Everyone else had to work more to eat.

“Eventually, both my daughters grew up, got married and left the home.

“My husband became worse and was not able to cope with his symptoms. He died at age 49. 

“I know that my life has no miracles in store, but all I want is a better future for my son than I had.”
“I know that my life has no miracles in store, but all I want is a better future for my son than I had.” – Farmer Ms Her

“I know that my life has no miracles in store, but all I want is a better future for my son than I had.”

My oldest son is addicted to opium now.

“After my husband died, my son was imprisoned for his opium use.

“He was in jail for three months.

“They put him through quarantine so they could get him out of his addiction.

“But after he got out of prison his behavior just got worse and he even threatened to use the little money I saved on opium.

“He has moved out now, found a girl and they live together. They will get married soon.

“I thought that maybe if he gets himself a wife then she will be able to help him out of addiction but I don’t know anymore.

“He is still the same. It makes me sad to see my son becoming like his father.”  

“So many times I think I do not want to live on this earth anymore. But I still have my son.

“I have been working alone trying to earn and make a living for my youngest son.

“So I fight for him. He is 11 years old and he is my only hope.

“Ineed to teach him to be a good person.

“So I put all my energy into growing upland rice and now coffee, and I am saving income to buy his school materials and a new uniform.

“I know that my life has no miracles in store, but all I want is a better future for my son than I had.”

Vanmai coffee is supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) alternative development programme in Lao PDR helping farmers move from cultivating opium to cash crops such as coffee. 

Text Credit: Laotian Times & Van Mai Coffee

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