Fruitful aid solution for Laos
VILLAGE farmers in the Vilabouly district of Laos will soon be growing Mundubbera citrus.
Ironbark Citrus has exported to south-east Asia for years, but a move to grow crops overseas is as much a business decision as private enterprise aid.
Getting Ironbark into the Laotian fields took a team effort from Australian NGO Business for Millennium Development and mining company MMG LXML, which runs a copper and gold mine in the Vilabouly district of Laos.
“It’s all just a really big experiment at the moment, it’s early days, but we want this to work,” Ironbark Citrus owner Sue Jenkin said.
“We have experience in the citrus industry, B4MD are experts at setting up projects in developing countries and MMG LXML have ties with the local community, so we really thought we can make this work.
“The local district government was also really supportive of the project, and that’s what it will need to be successful.”
Ironbark Citrus has planted 20,000 seeds at the new site, and will supply disease free trees for farmers to plant on their own land.
“It was a big, brave decision for the farmers to go into this, because we have never done it before and have no guarantees for them that this will work.
“But our budgeting indicates this project could significantly increase their incomes.”
The farmers will take out loans from a local community bank to buy the seedlings, and although Ironbark will be guarantors, Mrs Jenkin said securing this investment from villagers is a cornerstone element to the private enterprise aid business model.
Initially, Ironbark will supply the horticultural services, run the nursery and do the marketing, although the long-term goal is to have the project completely managed by the local people.
“None of the farmers can speak English, so I will need to learn Laos,” Mrs Jenkin said.
And while the project is still experimental at this stage, she hopes they will come up with a model that will be transferred to other countries to help kick-start their citrus industries.