VIENTIANE, May 23 (Xinhua) -- The May 19-21 Lao tea fair marking the International Tea Day has highlighted the role of tea in the daily life of the Lao people and its potential of reducing poverty and creating economic opportunities in the Southeast Asian country.
In cooperation with its development partners, the Department of Agriculture hosted the tea fair in Lao capital Vientiane to mark the International Tea Day that falls on May 21.
The event served to stress the importance of tea in Laos for its potential in the country's efforts to reduce poverty and create economic opportunities. Officials believe the Lao tea can be a help in environmental sustainability and economic development, and serve as a way to build resilient communities.
The tea fair is also aimed at enhancing the reputation of Lao tea as a high-quality product.
The three-day event, which was part of the Mekong Tea Project, was organized to encourage friendly competition and enhance recognition among the local tea community, the Vientiane Mai newspaper reported on Monday.
The tea fair brought together farmers, producers, industry professionals, consumers, and other stakeholders from around the country.
More than 20 booths displayed tea and related products at the event, including farmers organization and tea traders and sellers.
Speaking at the event, Lao Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Phet Phomphiphak said, "Despite favorable growing conditions and market proximity in China, the tea sector faces many challenges. In particular, farmers have limited knowledge and skills about tea processing, and they're not encouraged to export tea."
"Through this event, we aim to bring together all tea value chain actors to promote Lao tea's image and sales," Phomphiphak.
"We hope that this fair will help promote the Lao tea culture and the quality of teas across the country," said the minister.
Phomphiphak noted that the specificities of Lao tea, often produced in forested ecosystems by small-scale farmers, are to be preserved and scaled-up.
"We are convinced that the development of the tea value chain has great potential to empower smallholder farmers, while also protecting the environment," he added.
Residents in northern Laos' Xayaboury province, who earns a sizeable income by growing and collecting tea leaves from forests and plantations, are hoping for better returns and more sustainable incomes from the tea market.
"In recent years, we formed a tea production group with technical and grant assistance from several international organizations to enhance the quantity and quality of products and to become more competitive in the tea market," said one of the tea growers at the event.
"We want to ask the authorities to allow more buyers or companies to buy tea leaves from villagers every day. This will ensure regular incomes for the villagers to support their families and send their children to school, as many families will make millions of kip every week," he said.
The tea grower also believes that once tea products processed by locals are available to more buyers, this will help rural villages to rise above the poverty line.
With the support of the Mekong Tea Project, a Lao tea growing cooperative recently obtained organic EU (European Union) certification, which will allow its members to produce certified tea aimed at reaching European markets.
The Mekong Tea Project, led by Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forest and funded by French Development Agency (AFD), aims to improve the incomes of smallholder tea farmers through better governance of the value chain and better access to the market with quality and certified products.
To achieve this objective, two pilot projects in northern Laos' Bokeo and Xayaboury provinces will be initiated to support tea producers towards the sustainable production of high-quality tea and ensure long-term and fair commercial relationships with international buyers.
The project is also expected to contribute to the efforts by the Lao National Tea Learning Alliance, which gathers public institutions, stakeholders and development partners, to serve as a knowledge-sharing platform and unite efforts to define strategic orientations and a governance model based on inter-professional collaborations for the tea sector development in Laos. (1 U.S. dollar equals about 17,600 Lao kip)