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Bokeo Brown Concept Paper

Background

The idea of Bokeo Brown was initiated when another story was
about to end: the story of traditional brown sugar making in Ban
Nam Keung Kao. It is a quiet village near upstream Mekong,
where brown sugar making was a traditional and seasonal form of
livelihood, and was also a widespread activity in Northern Laos.
Today the villagers, especially the younger ones, find themselves
fully absorbed instead in growing rubber as an export resource
A villager cutting sugar and promoted by considerable Chinese investment in rubber
cane in Ban Nam Keung plantations. Against such a backdrop, only a diminishing number
Kao.
of elderly villagers still engage in traditional brown sugar making
for small-scale local consumption. The firewood required for this
production has become increasingly difficult to find due to
rampant deforestation for rubber plantations.

As one of the only two sugar cane producing villages in the whole
of northern Laos (the other one in Oudomxay Province), Ban Nam
Keung Kao now faces the long-term risk of over dependency on
one single crop, rubber. Preserving cane sugar making techniques
through improved working conditions and increased market
access will make a significant contribution to local income
diversification. Furthermore, BsE aims to develop a variety of cane
sugar based products with additions of cardamom, ginger,
cinnamon and other local spices. Adding value to all these
natural and organic local ingredients ultimately speaks to a larger
purpose of bio-diversity preservation in the region that is now
under considerable economic and ecological pressure from large
rubber investment.

The Idea

Brown sugar, manually produced from sugar cane, offers greater


health benefits than white sugar as it retains most of the minerals,
and some naturally present vitamins of the cane juice. In addition,
BsE also recognizes the cultural and social significance of the
Bokeo Brown, the final
traditional sugar manufacturing method for local producers.
product. Preserving these techniques will add value to the raw material
and contribute to income diversification for villagers who
increasingly rely on planting rubber rather than sugar cane.
Furthermore, adapting such traditional livelihoods at this time of
rapid commercialization will provide a renewed cultural
reference for future generations.By utilizing the intervention of
our value-chain system, BsE will seek to improve working
conditions, provide environmental and economical energy
solutions, increase productivity, and quality control. The end
products will be promoted through BsE’s local and global network
through our on-line store. The products will therefore reach
expanded markets yielding improved and enhanced prices. The
traditional brown sugar making technique and livelihood will also
be preserved and become economically sustainable. BsE’s
promotion aims to improve awareness of local livelihoods and
culture during this period of change.

Intervention

Our specific intervention will be focused toward improving


productivity, product quality for the various products combined
with increased job safety and skills development:

Group Formation
A group of 10 families (approximately one hundred persons) have
been selected to form the foundation group for the creation of a
cooperative.
Working over the
traditional stove.
Energy Efficiency and Job Safety
BsE intends to introduce a new stove fueled by the widely
available rice husks, sawdust and sugar cane fiber waste to
replace the traditional firewood stove. This would ease the
burden to walk for long and far distances to collect firewood that
is increasingly difficult to find due to deforestation. On average,
30 kg of wood is required daily to produce 14 kg of sugar. We
will also improve and re-design the work station to elevate the
stove, to make operation easier. The traditional low stove and
working platform is dangerous for elderly villagers who are
required to bend over and lean very close to the fire.

Organic Certification
Bokeo Brown™ is produced from sugar cane grown by villagers
without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Therefore, Bokeo
Brown™ can be considered as an organic product. Currently it
lacks the commercial advantage of being recognized as
internationally recognized with organic certification. BsE will
continue its work with producers and the Lao Department of
Agriculture and Forestry to obtain this certification according to
the norms developed by the International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements or IFOAM.

Training and Product Diversification


In addition to the traditional brown sugar bars, BsE will develop
additional products such as ginger candy and seasonal fruit jams
with brown sugar as an important ingredient. We will train
interested villagers in the required techniques to produce these
various products to broaden their income diversification.

Branding and Packaging


BsE will promote the brown sugar products under the brand
‘Bokeo Brown.’ Our creative assistant designs eye-catching labels
that tastefully combine product information with aesthetics. We
intend to use local and natural packaging materials to bring our
consumers closer to the products’ origin and be environmentally
friendly.

Market Access
BsE will promote Bokeo Brown™ and related products using its
existing and expanding local and international networks to
overcome access difficulties that have long inhibited the growth
and development of local products. Our website http://www.bse-
laos.com and online shop, will portray the story of Bokeo
Brown™ production to add interest for potential consumers to
promote and support local Bokeo communities.