The Politics of Myanmar’s Coffee Industry

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Carrboro Coffee Roaster’s president, Scott Conary, went on a several week-long trip to Myanmar this past September to teach and evaluate the coffee industry in the midst of the country’s most important elections in recent history. Read his thoughts on the people, the coffee industry, and the political situation below:

“You could sense the collective held breath of everyone in the country, but especially those with grand plans in the coffee industry. The elections in Myanmar were to be held in a little more than a month, and so much depended on a favorable outcome that would allow for expansion, growth, and a possible bright future in all aspects of the coffee industry. Investments that had been initiated, and looking to be continued–from farming and processing advancements and infrastructure to roasting and retail values–found themselves slowed, their plans perceptibly hesitating, awaiting the results.

This is not to say nothing was happening. My efforts for the 2+ weeks I was there were vigorously active, fanning the flames of interest and intent that had been building for some time. Every class I taught was full of eager and adventurous professionals of all levels. Each was there to aid in the building of their own plans of growth and success, taking advantage of this great USAID/Winrock funded program that CQI reached to teach roasting, espresso/barista and coffee brewing classes to veterans and newcomers to the industry alike.

At the same time I was able to assess the agricultural and cultural makeup of the country and get an idea of the amazing potential they could have in the world market; and even assist where possible for their internal success and strategic partnerships that could help them get there.

I pulled no punches and gave no easy answers to questions, as my intent was to lay the building blocks of more education and learning to follow, and I didn’t want to shortcut that with partial answers. Instead, my goal was to teach a comprehension that would allow for critical thinking and the ability to work through issues that might arise in the future and with varying circumstances that might not be revealed until later. Gaining this knowledge and hands-on skill set would be a first real building block to advancing abilities, procedures, and ultimately quality going forward.

It was unclear at first if this would be initially effective, as this is a plan that builds over time and often takes a while in coming to fruition.

I was more than a little pleased to see appreciation and comprehension come to light early on and realized that, in the right environment, one that fostered the kind of growth that entrepreneurs need to build and grow businesses, Myanmar was poised to do great things, especially in the coffee world.

The intelligent and hardworking folks who attended the classes made the classes themselves enjoyable to teach and created the best of situations–one where there are active conversations between teacher and student, such that true comprehension can be found.

Looking back, post election; I believe there must have been a huge sigh of relief, after an initial whoop of joy, at the election results. For the first time in quite a while, residents of the country have some hope that their efforts may bear a fruit that can continue to be replanted in their homeland, and can take pride in being part of that prosperity.

In this case, that fruit is a coffee cherry.”

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