Where Does Your Coffee Come From?

Asia Times Online :: Coffee colonialism in Laos.

Asia Times Online :: Coffee colonialism in Laos

VIENTIANE – It is an increasingly familiar tale in Laos: poor farmers are pushed off their ancestral lands by corrupt local officials to make way for capital-rich, foreign-invested plantation agriculture.

But some of the local farmers are beginning to fight back.  When the governor of The area around Paksong granted land concessions to  Asian coffee giant Outspan Boloven, local farmers began to organize.

The farmers have staged rare protests in communist-run Laos, bringing national attention to their grass roots plight and perceived high level corruption in the land deal. Puan, a thin, angular-faced man involved in the fight, said during a recent trip to the national capital to air grievances, “We will die for our land.”

Organic coffee from the Boloven Plateau is famous around the world, and brings a steady income for the smallholder farmers in the area.  After the communist government outlawed shifting agriculture, the farmers planted commercial trees, coffee, and other subsistence crops.  The income from the land enabled them to pay their taxes and make a living for their families.

But after the coffee company gained the land,

Outspan Boloven brought in tractors and leveled the ground without any local consultations. “They worked day and night. The noise and light did not allow us to sleep,” Puan grumbled. “We went out and tried to stop them, but they told us we had no rights anymore as the land had been granted by the governor.”

Drawing a parallel to what is happening in Indonesian palm oil plantations, filmmaker Serge Marti says  “Companies often destroy graveyards and shrines to eradicate claims of ancestral ownership and demoralize communities.”

Video shot in the contested area in Paksong a week before the delegation arrived in Vientiane showed piles of burnt and smoking timber and bamboo clumps. Bare earth exposed by company bulldozers is ringed by openly distraught villagers.

Land-grabbing is on the rise in Asia and other parts of the world without clear land titles.  This is fueling unrest among the smallholders, who have little recourse against giant corporations and their own government.  Many farmers are turning to the outside world, trying to expose the corruption and injustice:

“This is our dignity and our lives” he said. “We are not afraid to die.”

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