Fruit­ful aid so­lu­tion for Laos

Central and North Burnett Times - - NEWS -

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.

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