Sustainable Participatory Water Use in the Coffee Industry in Southern Laos | WWF

Sustainable Participatory Water Use in the Coffee Industry in Southern Laos

The abundant rainfall and fertile soil of the Bolaven Plateau makes it well suited to coffee production. Over 90% of the national crop (30,000 tonnes of green coffee beans) is produced in two districts there: Paksong and Thatheng. In a country which remains heavily dependent of foreign aid, coffee makes an important contribution to the market economy.

Coffee is Laos’ largest agricultural export and there is a growing demand internationally for premium coffee products. Coffee is also an important livelihood and source of income, especially for women in rural communities.

Several studies have revealed that untreated waste from varying scales of coffee processing are affecting the quality of surface waters worldwide and more severely in developing countries. The Arabica coffee wet-processing method requires a huge amount of water to produce the end product of clean green coffee beans, and it is estimated that 23 million litres of untreated coffee processing effluent flows into rivers on the Plateau each year.

Without wastewater management, the production process can pollute water resources, damage aquatic ecosystems, and pose a threat to the health of nearby communities. This represents a drawback in the coffee production industry and undermines the economic benefits this production can bring to communities.

Lao coffee exports have grown in the last decade from approximately 13,000 tonnes in 2002 to 30,000 tonnes in 2013. With the Government seeking to greatly increase this production, there is a need for better production standards, including water management.

The overall project goal is to enhance the sustainability of water use on the Plateau by raising awareness among coffee industry stakeholders about the environmental impact of coffee production on the environment, continue research on these impacts, and develop a multi-stakeholder engagement strategy on issues of water and coffee in the area.
 
© Wisa Fink
Coffee growing on the Bolaven Plateau
© Wisa Fink
 
© Wisa Fink
WWF-Laos staff testing water quality
© Wisa Fink

The Fertile Plateau

The Bolaven Plateau is the most important coffee-growing region in Laos. Its volcanic soils from an ancient volcano are incredibly fertile and are associated with high mineral content. When these factors are added to the elevated geography of the Plateau, which is greater than 1,000 metres above mean sea level, the conditions for growing superior quality Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) beans are nearly perfect. 
 
© Amphone Phommachak / WWF-Laos
A river runs off the plateau.
© Amphone Phommachak / WWF-Laos