STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 4, Number 6

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Page 46 of 67

STiR tea & coffee industry international 47 By Frank Miller Shade-grown Coffee Under an Umbrella of Reform highest ratio of productivity-to-cost thanks to a combination of low labor expense (mostly fam- ily members), low cost (subsidized) fertilizers, an abundance of water for irrigation, low processing costs (sun-drying), and a low cost of living. This means that Vietnamese robusta from aging trees even with careless harvesting, crude processing, and faulty grading, can still compete on price. High volumes of low-quality coffee is a dou- ble-edged sword. In pushing for higher coffee production the government failed to promote best farming practices. Skills to improve the selection of coffee cherries during harvesting, upgrading sorting standards, improving processing, and oth- er downstream aspects of the coffee supply chain, such as storage and transport were neglected. Growth was never about quality. The result of Vietnam's quantitative approach (also seen in the tea industry) led coffee farmers to became almost addicted to the use of agricultural chemicals. Use of chemicals doubled in the 1990s and reached 5 million mt by 2000, the result of government subsidies and a huge increase in lo- cal fertilizer production. There was little or no soil testing, placing future soil productivity and human health at risk. The coffee farmer is also likely to irrigate crops profligately; water is seen as a free, relatively unlimited resource. These unsustainable practices lead to environmental degradation. Toward sustainability The government and the coffee farmers of Viet- nam have since read the handwriting on the wall (World Bank) and gazed into the crystal ball (FAO). Farmers are increasingly aware that sus- tainability measures are not only crucial to preserv- ing environmental and human health, they add value to a farm product, as consumers in import- ing countries become aware that their buying deci- sions can affect the environment. To reach thousands of isolated coffee farmers, NGOs work jointly with large coffee processors and exporters who buy from smallholders. The Rainrorest Alliance operates an export-driven cer- tification program for coffee farmers who limit chemical use, manage waste disposal and conserve water, protecting soil, wildlife, and water qual- ity. RA's rural outreach in farmer education and technology transfer is well established in Buon Ma Thuot, Dak Lak province. Common Code for the Coffee Community ("4C"), based in Bonn, Germany, uses a three- color rating code for farm practices: green for best practices, yellow for practices that need improving and red for those that should be eliminated. Holland-based UTZ promotes a certified code of conduct, reaching farmers who account for about 7% of Vietnam's coffee production. To the mid 1990s Vietnam was a blip on the world coffee map. Although the Bourbon Arabica coffee variety was introduced into Vietnam's central highlands, near Dalat City, by the French as early as the 1850's, the crop was not significantly commercialized until 1910, when a plantation system was inaugurated with external trade the objective. Fast forward 60 years, in the 1970s the average number of hectares of coffee was below a few thousand hectares. The invasion and occupation of Indochina (1941–1945), the "Vietnam War" (1954-1975) inhibited modern development of Vietnamese agriculture and external trade.

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