Over the last few decades the landscape in northern Laos has been changing rapidly mainly under the influence of continual investments in plantation agriculture. Chinese entrepreneurs, deprived of economic opportunities in overcrowded southern China, are increasingly willing to venture across the border to a country where people are scarce and land is plentiful.
Deforestation, soil degradation, chemical pollution, dependence of farmers on a single cash crop... are just a few of the problems caused by these developments.
There are examples of successful alternatives to monocropping and they are not far to be sought. Just across the border in northern Thailand, in an area very similar to northern Laos, coffee was introduced some fifteen years ago. Now, these areas have diversified their rural economies, growing coffee and other cash-crops like macadamia and Chinese plum. Simultaneously with the appearance of a real coffee culture in southeast Asia, these areas are flourishing as “hilltribe coffees” are enjoying great popularity.