Quality Myanmar coffee to hit Japan’s Muji shelves soon

18, Sep. 2020

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By Yadana Htun

YANGON, NNA - Supporting sustainable livelihood of farmers in Myanmar's southern Shan State, Japanese retailer Muji will start selling their coffee beans next week.

Ryohin Keikaku Co., Ltd., which runs the Muji chain of stores in Japan and overseas, has announced its partnership with Green Gold Cooperative in the Shan region to supply small batches of Arabica beans produced by their farmers.

Labelled as Myanmar Coffee Beans, the product will be sold at 39 Muji stores in Japan as well as their online sites from September 23.

The Green Gold Cooperative, an association of about 900 coffee farmers currently, was established in 2015 with the support of Myanmar government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help end their traditional dependency on opium poppy cultivation.

Farmers in the cooperative have turned to cultivating quality Arabica coffee alongside various fruits as a sustainable livelihood alternative to growing poppies.

Located in high altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 1,800 meters, their farm lands are blessed with a perfect climate for producing high-quality coffee berries.

Sai Han Myo Aung, general manager of Green Gold, told NNA that Japan is its second export market, after Europe, which has been buying their coffee since fall of 2018.

“We export 85 percent of the total production to Europe and sell the rest of 15 percent in the local market. The export to Japan is very small as it is just a start. However, we do hope to grow the market by getting a long-term partnership with Japan,” he said.

Although Ryohin Keikaku are buying only small lots of coffee from the cooperative for now, the company is very pleased with their quality. Although the size of their beans is smaller than other coffee beans, they have the same standard for taste and aroma, it said.

Muji will retail a 200g bag of the Myanmar coffee beans at 990 Yen.

Ryohin Keikaku said in its statement, "In our conversations with the farmers during our visit to Myanmar, we learned that small-sized coffee beans could not be exported and were being sold at a low price in Myanmar."

Although their coffee is delicious, farmers faced difficulty in exporting their beans as buyers prefer to buy bigger beans.

After understanding the predicaments faced by the Shan farmers, the company decided to support them, not just to boost their income but also help them to switch from poppy to coffee cultivation.

The cooperative produced about 100 tons of coffee in 2019, when one in nine households in southern Shan State was still found to be involved in poppy farming, according to UNODC.

Although poppy cultivation has decreased in recent years due to government efforts, many farmers still struggled with poverty. Alternative sources of income were not enough for them to make a decent living, so some of them continued to cultivate poppies in remote mountainous areas.

To tackle these problems, the government and UNODC decided to promote the cultivation of coffee as a more rewarding alternative crop.

Myanmar's southern Shan State is located in the notorious Golden Triangle, a mountainous region bordering Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and known as one of the top opium poppy cultivation areas in the world.

The scale of poppy cultivation in Myanmar fell a further 11 percent in 2019 to 33,100 hectares, according to the Myanmar Opium Survey released by UNODC in February this year.