A Queensland citrus grower has taken on the extraordinary challenge of helping develop a brand new citrus industry in Laos, South-East Asia.
Ironbark Lao general manager Sue Jenkins and her husband Allan have a well-established orchard in Mundubbera in the North Burnett.
Ms Jenkins said she was looking for a new career challenge and a way to give back.
“It’s very challenging and enormous fun,” she said.
“There’s lots of differences and that’s what makes it really interesting, trying to adapt what we know to what’s happening over there.”
The project is happening in four stages, with the initial set-up of nurseries with Australian root stock, followed by the planting of orchards on land owned by the farmers, then the marketing and financing of further expansions.
Ms Jenkins said the budwood and seed was imported from Australia to combat disease.
“That’s formed the basis of our orchards and we’re trying lots of different varieties,” she said.
“We know the ones that market well because we’re exporters and we export predominantly into South-East Asia.
“But we don’t know so well the varieties that are going to produce well, so we’ve got quite a number of varieties we’re experimenting with.”
She said she was expecting a small harvest towards the end of 2017, and while the quantity and quality were still unknown, the local farmers were enthusiastic about their new crop.
“I was a little bit overawed that they said they wanted to be involved so readily,” she said.
“I was really just another stranger walking into their community saying ‘Look at me, I’m awesome, I can change your lives for the better’ and they had no proof at all that anything I said was true.
“They’ve just been very interested, very cooperative … it’s all about farmers growing the trees on their own land for their own benefit.”
Focus on long-term sustainability
Ms Jenkins said the focus was on developing a sustainable, profitable, self-sufficient industry.
“They just don’t have the capital, they don’t have anything behind them to be able to take it to the next level,” she said.
“That’s really what we’re trying to do, help farmers who are interested to take it to the next level and get above that subsistence-level farming.
“It’s a big goal, it’s really going to be farmer-driven, long term you want to have a successful business that can expand in Laos and support itself.”
Ms Jenkins said if the model proved successful, she would look at expanding it to other nations, if there were farmers willing to be involved.