VETS Volunteer Voices: Brewing Success and Empowerment in Laos
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VETS Volunteer Voices: Brewing Success and Empowerment in Laos

#VETSVolunteerVoices aims to bring you the stories of our passionate VETS program volunteers from the field. This blog was written by Izabela Wlodarczyk, a Communications Volunteer supporting our VETS partner, CARE International, in Laos (February - June 2024). 

The Sustainable Production and Ethnically Responsible and Women Empowered Coffee Value Chain (SuPER WE) project embodies a significant initiative in agricultural empowerment, with a particular emphasis on uplifting female coffee farmers in southern Laos. CARE International in Laos spearheads this initiative in coffee and health, with support from the VETS program.

Through SuPER WE, coffee farmers undergo comprehensive training in cultivation, processing, packaging, and marketing strategies, all aimed at enhancing their families' livelihoods. Notably, female farmers participate in broader coffee group activities, receiving crucial education in financial literacy and business management.

Consider Chandy Xayaboun, for instance, a 42-year-old mother of four (ranging from ages 12 to 18). Alongside her husband, she tends to their coffee farm part of the year, while dedicating the rest of the year to their cassava crop. Despite her children's schooling, Chandy harbors concerns about urban job security for them post-graduation, thus prioritizing the cultivation of future generations of farmers.

CREDIT: C.P.C Bolaven Plateau Coffee Producers Cooperative

Natural, red cherry coffee beans.

CREDIT: CARE International

Chandy Xayaboun at her coffee farm.

Processed, white coffee beans.

As a SuPER WE participant, Chandy embraces the opportunity to embark on study tours in neighboring provinces, exploring the intricacies of quality coffee production. Her learning encompasses the nuances of coffee cultivation, farm maintenance, and the meticulous process of transforming red cherries into white beans. "I have a passion for learning, often engaging in training programs," she shares with satisfaction. "Thanks to the project, I now serve as the accountant for our coffee production group."

Before training, Chandy's income was subject to traders' whims, leaving her financially vulnerable. However, post-training insight revealed that selling processed white coffee beans yields higher profits than dried cherries with intact beans. Consequently, Chandy's farm now thrives, yielding superior white coffee beans in abundance and fetching premium prices. With this augmented income, her family's quality of life has also flourished.

Recently, Chandy invested in two motorcycles, one for herself and her husband, in addition to a small, motorized vehicle for transporting coffee. Moreover, she can now comfortably finance her children's education, while also supporting other family needs. Reflecting on her journey, Chandy says with a smile: "I am grateful for the project's educational opportunities. It has transformed my family's well-being."

While the project's successes in coffee processing and financial literacy are evident, challenges persist in infrastructure improvement and fostering self-sufficiency among farmers. Ensuring alignment and investment in essential aspects such as new fences, repairs, and storage space poses challenges, as does encouraging farmers to save and become self-reliant. To tackle these hurdles, CARE International and VWB adopt a forward-looking approach, emphasizing long-term planning and equipping women with indispensable industry skills. This proactive strategy prioritizes empowerment and sustainability beyond the SuPER WE project's culmination in 2026.

Female coffee farmers at a coffee festival in southern Laos.

For example, initiatives such as establishing savings banks and nurturing cooperative networks empower women to manage themselves effectively in the coffee industry. Project staff facilitate networking opportunities, provide access to training sessions, and encourage participation in events like coffee festivals and workshops. By fostering a cooperative ethos, the project aims to amplify outputs, enhance business growth, and foster continuous learning among participating women. This comprehensive approach not only fortifies women's resilience in the face of climate change-induced challenges but also ensures their sustainable integration into the coffee industry.

Chandy's story showcases the project's transformative potential and impact, suggesting similar successes for other participating families. As we anticipate these success stories, SuPER WE offers inspiration, empowering women in the face of agricultural challenges.

VETS is a 7-year initiative (2020-2027) to improve the economic and social well-being of marginalized people, particularly women and girls, in 6 countries across Africa and Asia. In collaboration with local partners, the program is implemented through 190 Canadian volunteers on international assignment and is generously funded by Global Affairs Canada. Learn more.

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    - Joseph Ansong-Danquah

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