politics

Isolation and Fear Among Myanmar Coffee Producers as Military Coup Wears On

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The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

Hours before Myanmar’s new parliament was set to begin session on Monday, Feb. 1, Myanmar’s armed forces known as the Tatmadaw staged a coup d’état.

State Counsellor and de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other elected members and high-ranking officials of the National League for Democracy (NLD) — whose party had captured 83% (396 out of 476) of available parliamentary seats in the November 2020 election — were deposed and detained.

Citing electoral fraud, the Tatmadaw and its leader Min Aung Hlaing declared a one-year state of emergency, promised elections in a year’s time, and accused Aung San Suu Kyi of an obscure violation while keeping her under house arrest. On February 2, the military regime formed a military junta to rule the country, christening it the State Administrative Council (SAC).

Suu Kyi and the NLD encouraged the public to reject a return to military rule and a nationwide civil disobedience movement was born. With a three-fingered hunger salute as its icon, civilians protested the military coup through art, wearing the NLD color red, peaceful demonstrations, social media outreach, and through massive walkouts in multiple sectors such as schools, banks and hospitals.

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Coffeelands near Ywa Ngan in southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

The Tatmadaw has responded with crackdowns, killing an estimated 550 civilians, including children, as of this writing. The group has instituted social media blackouts, media blackouts, internet blackouts, a nightly curfew in larger cities, arrests, and the violent use of force during protests. With each passing day, more civilians are killed as the Tatmadaw — estimated at about 300,000 to 500,000 members in a country of 54 million people — continues its reign of terror with impunity.

As the military’s takeover marches into its third month, thousands of refugees have fled west to India and east to Thailand to escape the violence. Separately, over 800,000 Muslim Rohingya — one of Myanmar’s many ethnic minority groups — refugees remain in limbo in the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh after the Tatmadaw began a bloody military campaign in Rakhine state in 2017 that the UN described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” with “genocidal intent.”

As actors in a global coffee industry, it is important to recognize Myanmar’s complex history and myriad ethnic minority groups, rather than focusing solely on headlines related to these military actions. Continuing to do business with smallholder farmers in Myanmar — many of whom are a part of historically persecuted ethnic minority groups — has become even more critical in recent months as the broader political situation has deteriorated.

Coffee Backdrop

British colonists and missionaries introduced coffee to Myanmar in the 1880s, establishing small farms around the city of Pyin Oo Lwin in the Mandalay region. Commercial production never really took off, and when British colonial rule ended in 1948, coffee was typically sold in the local market at low prices or across borders in China, Laos or Thailand through unofficial channels.

In 2014, the commercial coffee sector was struggling, and specialty coffee was nonexistent. The country’s only dry mill was a government-run mill in Pyin Oo Lwin, and the few farmers who hadn’t abandoned coffee altogether were strip-picking cherry and selling it to the local market for next to nothing.

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Coffee drying at a wet/dry mill near Pinlaung, southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

In late 2014 a new era of coffee in Myanmar emerged through a 5-year USAID Value Chains for Rural development project implemented by Winrock International and supported by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to motivate farmers away from opium poppy cultivation, improve coffee quality and processing, and provide business training and market access to smallholder farmers.

Atlas Coffee Importers (my employer) has been involved in Myanmar’s specialty coffee scene since 2014 through CQI and Atlas founder Craig Holt, and in 2016 imported the first specialty coffee containers from Myanmar to the U.S. market.

Roasters have enthusiastically embraced the coffees for their unique flavor profiles. Mandalay and Shan State produce the majority of the coffee in Myanmar. In Mandalay, most of the farmers own large estates, and primarily produce washed coffees as well as natural- and honey-process lots. Shan State producers are almost exclusively smallholders who typically own less than a hectare of land and produce natural-process and coffees.

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Coffee processing at a wet/dry mill in Ywa Ngan, southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

The Myanmar Coffee Association (MCA), founded in late 2014, has hosted a yearly coffee competition in Yangon since 2015, with the winning lots reaching the upper 80s. Specialty coffee production can be found in many regions across the country — Shan State, Mandalay, Chin State, Kachin State, among others — and there are at least five dry mills throughout the country. In 2019, annual total coffee production was estimated at 3,500 to 4,000 metric tons, or around 200 containers, with 400-500 metric tons being exported to the U.S., Canada, UK, France, Singapore, Australia, Russia, and elsewhere.

Despite reductions in demand in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was poised to be a big year for Myanmar’s specialty coffee producers, with larger buyers taking notice of the unique story and cup profile.

The Coup + Coffee

In December 2020 and January 2021 I had been in regular communication with several producer groups as we confirmed contracts and shipping schedules for the year. Some groups were having their largest harvest on record and others were struggling with production due to a drought. Yet all were enthusiastically coordinating early-season samples and looking forward to economic stability after nearly a year of COVID-19, which had increased income-based poverty from 16% to 63% between January 2020 to September 2020, according to a study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Then the coup hit, bringing with it widespread fear of the future, concern for physical safety, and uncertainty for Myanmar’s future as a whole. For coffee producers who were in the middle of their harvest — which runs from late December/early January to the end of March — the pressing concern became whether or not they would still be able to generate income through coffee.

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Coffee growing under silver oak shade trees at an estate in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay region. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

Widespread bank closings due to the civil disobedience movement made access to finance difficult. Some farmers understandably sold their coffee cherries to the local market in order to access cash quickly. Roadblocks went up, and the Tatmadaw imposed daily internet blackouts. I was still able to communicate via email and WhatsApp with our partners while navigating the changing blackout times. DHL in Yangon — the primary means to send samples — is closed through April 20, forcing many of the groups to use alternative routes to ship samples.

In addition to economic uncertainty, producers have shared with me and my colleagues feelings of deep sadness and fear, with many not leaving the house at night or avoiding public transportation. Blackouts and media crackdowns have further caused emotional, political and technical isolation.

Through it all, cherries keep ripening and producers keep processing coffee, not knowing whether their efforts will pay dividends,

Multiple countries, including the United States, have already issued sanctions against specific military personnel. On March 29, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai announced the “suspension of all U.S. engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), effective immediately.”

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Coffees drying in Mandalay region. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

The announcement was a largely symbolic gesture — Myanmar is not a big U.S trade partner — and two-way trade with Myanmar is still allowed and with no current restrictions on U.S. imports from Myanmar. However, the USTR is also likely to reassess Myanmar’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, which allows for tariff-free access to the U.S. market for certain goods. With generally low yields and a higher cost of production, coffee producers in Myanmar already struggle to compete with price on the international market; additional tariffs could have catastrophic effects on demand.

On March 31, my colleagues and I arranged a call between five different producer groups and our roasters — a tiny technological miracle. I ended the call with a sense of hope about the strength of relationships and the viability of exports for the year, reminding myself that coffee usually finds a way because people usually find a way. The next morning I received an urgent WhatsApp from one of the producers with the news that the SAC “ordered internet service providers to shut down wireless broadband providers until further notice. They are keeping Myanmar in darkness & away from the world by cutting all telecommunications channels. WE NEED YOUR HELP. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #Apr1Coup.”

Since then I have only been able to communicate with one associate in Myanmar via WhatsApp. Producers who live in regions with a complete internet blackout are using cell phone calls to communicate amongst each other as they continue to process coffee. Witnessing the Tatmadaw ramp up its efforts to snuff out all communications in order to retain total control is devastating. An expert from the think tank the Lowy Institute shared that Myanmar is on the brink of being a “failed state” and that the international community needs to step up its to bring stability to Myanmar.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The outcomes don’t look good. China and Singapore, major trade partners with Myanmar — Singapore was the largest foreign investor in Myanmar last year, followed by Hong Kong — are unlikely to sanction Myanmar’s military personnel or trade in a way that would induce a return to a democratically elected government.

While it’s important for the U.S. and other international governments to publicly condemn Myanmar’s military, suspending a trade agreement is — as my husband and I tried to explain to our 4 -and 7-year-old over the dinner table — like a distant relative you barely see saying, “If you don’t behave, you won’t get dessert at my house.”

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Producer home nursery, southern Shan State. Photo by Susan Heller Evenson.

We cannot force countries and companies who bankroll the Myanmar military to threaten “no dessert” for continued bad behavior. Appealing to the Tatmadaw on the basis of humanity is futile as they see themselves as the guardians of a country and its way of life, and are socially isolated from civilian life, with their own schools, internet, banks and hospitals.

We can, however, act through continuing to pressure our elected officials. Meanwhile, coffee producers in Myanmar continue to process coffee and prepare it for export, hopeful that their country’s return to democracy — however fragile — is on the horizon.

We must do what we can do help our friends and partners in Myanmar. They have asked our community for help, and we must respond.

Act

Please consider taking five minutes to write your elected officials by going to https://democracyformyanmar.org/. There’s a look-up tool by address (if you are in Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the U.S.) and a message to copy/paste to your officials.

Source: Roast Magazine

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Trump Tramples Israeli Cannabis Exports

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MARIJUANA POLITICS – The News Source For an Informed Citizenry Post by Don Fitch

In a troubling move, US President Donald Trump has nixed Israel’s medical cannabis export hopes.

Israel has long been a leader in medical cannabis research and now stands poised to serve a huge export market. Yet this market will remain unserved and global medical cannabis production discouraged, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has caved to pressure from Donald Trump to quash a lucrative and health-promoting trade. As reported by The Jewish Telegraph Agency,

The prime minister made it clear that he did not want Israel to be a pioneer in the export of medical marijuana in order not to anger the U.S. president, according to the report.

While commonly ignoring any American request to stop building settlements on Palestine land, in this case, the Israeli Prime Minister was quick to comply.

Netanyahu told the heads of the ministries he ordered the freeze after receiving a call about the issue of exporting marijuana from Trump, who is against its legalization.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this development is Trump’s apparent active opposition to medical cannabis. Of course, Attorney General Jeff Sessions nourishes a great hatred for all things marijuana and the others in Trump’s cabinet are extreme in opposition to cannabis, the President himself has said little about the plant. During his campaign, Trump expressed support for medical marijuana and for the rights of states to choose. His comments about the drug war have been extreme, even praising the homicidal actions of foreign leaders, but has so far not demonized cannabis.

How did the notion come into Trump’s mind to request that Netanyahu stifle shipments of medical cannabis? It seems unlikely that he came up with the idea himself.

The fact that Trump apparently personally made a phone “call about the issue” would seem to indicate its importance to the President. Unfortunately. In any case, Trump’s actions, far more than any that have come before, show him to be actively opposed to cannabis, its medical uses, and its value to commerce. 

Image: Commons.Wikimedia.Org

 

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Griggs: What is self-care and how do you do it?

Indulging in “self-care” is a reasonable response to both the current political climate and the increased risk for mental health issues that many millennials face. Self-care isn’t just a millennial obsession, of course; in Audre Lorde’s 1988 book of essays, “A Burst of Light,” she writes that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Lorde’s ideas are meant for and are especially revolutionary for queer women of color, who suffer at the hands of the current system.

But in the era of Trump, this idea seems to have been co-opted as a trend, and it makes sense. It is, of course, important to take care of yourself; to say no to overworking yourself and expecting perfection, which contributes largely to the millennial mental health epidemic. It is especially important for marginalized groups of people to recognize when they are being exploited by the system and by other people, and when they’re allowed to take a break. During the special election in Alabama this past December, black women turned out in large numbers to vote for Democrat Doug Jones over accused pedophile Roy Moore, and were celebrated for “saving America” on social media, which shows how much labor this group of people puts forth and how much Lorde’s ideas about self-care are necessary. This idea was extrapolated on by singer Solange in an interview with W Magazine: “Even in the midst of this last week with the multiple murders of young black men that occurred, I chose this time not to watch. Just for the sake of being able to exist in that day, to exist without rage, and exist without heartbreak. To be able to get up and tell my child to have a wonderful day and know that he’ll be protected and nurtured and loved and treated like an equal contributor to society, I sometimes have to choose to not look.” One does not always have to participate in the tumultuous world, especially if one is part of a largely marginalized group of people, and it is clear that Solange and Lorde’s ideas of caring for yourself are in the least selfish vein possible.

It’s also necessary for everyone, no matter their privilege and experience, to take care of themselves before helping other people. Increased awareness of the importance of this, especially regarding mental health issues, has blown up over social media, and it’s been helpful. In an interview with NPR, Hyepin Im, an expert on mental health and digital advocacy, said that “…the introduction of social media throughout the millennial generation has increased understanding of mental illnesses and decreased the stigma.” And it’s especially important for people with mental health issues to take time to care for themselves, through therapy or exercise, for example.

 But self-care culture can prove to be destructive and selfish, especially for people with a lot of privilege who aren’t doing it the right way. An example of self-care leading to self-destruction happens within “wine mom culture”, which is now known as a Facebook meme. It’s middle-aged women using alcohol as a reward and can lead to them drinking far more than they should, impacting not only their own health but the safety of their children. Self-care needs to be responsible, and not done at the whims of others – and Audre Lorde shouldn’t be quoted to make up for irresponsible behavior.

Treating yourself can cause more problems for yourself when it’s short sighted, focusing only on what you want in the moment. This includes eating a bunch of junk food or staying in bed to watch Netflix all night, or skipping something that might prove to be more beneficial to you in the long run, like spending time with family or friends. “When you have a craving for chocolate, do you tend to tell yourself that you need chocolate? Instead of automatically giving in to a craving, first consider what you might really need,” said Carrie Dennet in an article for the Seattle Times. Chocolate can be replaced with any quick fix here – it’s not that you can never give in and satisfy that immediate craving, but if you do it all the time, it’s just going to cause more damage.

While it is certainly okay and healthy to occasionally remove yourself from social situations to work on your own mental health, it’s also important to be a good friend and parent. And while it’s sometimes necessary to retreat from the world of politics, it’s not okay to become complacent, especially if you have a lot of privilege. Go to the friend’s party you promised them you’d go to. Do your best to educate people on issues you feel they could benefit from. And don’t stay inside and watch Netflix every day. It will benefit your mental health and help the people around you.

Ideas for Healthy Self-Care:

-Turn off news notifications on your phone. It’s damaging for one’s psyche to be constantly receiving updates about nuclear war. (I’m speaking for my anxious self here).

-Don’t back out on too many promises. Sometimes you might be having a terrible night, and you don’t have to go to every party. But you should try your best to maintain your commitments, especially to the people close to you.

-Treat yourself when it’s okay to do so. You don’t always have to beat yourself up about splurging a little, but do it in a way that will ultimately help you. Maybe buying a new pair of sneakers would encourage you to run more, or a scented candle could help you relax.

-Ask for help when you need it. You don’t have to be perfect all the time! In fact, you certainly won’t be! Give yourself a break. You’re probably doing things pretty well.

 

The post Griggs: What is self-care and how do you do it? appeared first on Emerald Media.

US Attorney Providing Price Support for Oregon Cannabis

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MARIJUANA POLITICS – The News Source For an Informed Citizenry Post by Don Fitch

The state of Oregon has been producing high-quality cannabis for decades. The climate, especially in the southwest corner of the state, is nearly perfect for the plant’s needs and the state’s progressive cultural climate supported people experimenting with marijuana cultivation. Now, with full adult use legalization, prices have dropped substantially. The drop in price per pound has caused havoc for growers, but now Oregon’s US Attorney is poised to provide price support.

For many decades, Oregon has been a leader in cannabis interest, use, legislation, and cultivation. As an agricultural crop, cannabis has long reigned as the state’s leading earner. When most old growth forests disappeared, logging waned as a prosperous industry and was partially replaced by cannabis. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts. Then, 20 years ago, the state’s voters legalized medical cannabis, creating retail markets and allowing legal home growing by those with a medical card. Finally, in 2014 Oregon voters chose to legalize all cannabis adult use and allowed for four plant cultivation and state-licensed adult use grows. The state does produce a lot of cannabis.

Enter Billy J. Williams, US Attorney for Oregon. Newly encouraged to prosecute pot by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Williams is about to do just that. Of all the 94 US Attorneys responding to Session’s ending the protective Cole Memo, the Oregon US Attorney seems the most hawkish. He invoked a widely publicized “marijuana summit,” whined about Oregon’s overproduction of cannabis, and vowed, “Make no mistake. We are going to do something about it.

Presumably, the Oregon US Attorney’s statement means some Oregonians will soon be charged with federal marijuana crimes. Current law makes possession of non-trivial amounts of cannabis one of the gravest federal crimes, punishable by the most severe penalties. Reversing a small measure of sanity from the previous administration, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed his 94 US Attorneys, including Oregon’s Williams, to seek maximum harm against those charged with drug crimes. Sessions cheers mandatory minimums and asset forfeiture. Some Oregon entrepreneurs are likely soon to suffer both.

For the last half-century, Oregon has likely always produced more cannabis than it consumed. Doubtless, some was distributed to eager markets in other states. With nearly a thousand recreational grow licenses already awarded by the state, and hundreds more on the way, combined with the right to grow 4 plants by all Oregonians and 12 medical plants per household, it is difficult to see how legal Oregon production will not continue to outpace in-state consumption. And this is before considering production by non-legal growers. Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a great friend to the Oregon cannabis industry, somehow assures that legal grows will not be federally prosecuted.

So, what will be the effect of aggressive federal marijuana law enforcement by the US Attorney for Oregon?

  • Some Oregonians will have their lives ruined by federal prosecution. Mandatory minimums will be served, property will be seized.
  • US Attorney Billy J. Williams will get a pat on the back from marijuana-crazed Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
  • Oregon will continue to produce more cannabis than it consumes.
  • The price per pound of Oregon cannabis will stabilize, even rise as it has always done during periods of coercive federal enforcement.

The irony of any federal enforcement action by Williams against Oregonian growers will only serve to provide needed price support for others. The Oregon grow rush is already abating, discouraged by an ever-dropping the price per pound. Federal prosecutions will artificially prop up prices, encouraging increased production.

The true problem, of course, is not over-production of marijuana in Oregon. The problem is the idiotic federal inclusion of cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act, especially its bogus classification as a Schedule I drug. Delisting cannabis from the CSA would allow states their rightful role in marijuana policy and would allow Oregonians to sell their valuable cash crop in other states, just as is done now with wine and timber.

One set of true harms associated with a small percentage of Oregon marijuana grows are environmental crimes. Some pirate growers in woodlands divert streams, poison with pesticides, spew trash, and otherwise degrade the environment. If US Attorney Williams really wants to help his state with marijuana enforcement, this is where he should start. And end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US Coffee Companies Respond to ‘Shithole Country’ Comments

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Numerous companies within the United States coffee industry, which has for decades taken market advantage of the hard labor and skill of millions of people in developing countries to milk profits, have swiftly responded to…

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