GREENING THE VIET NAM COFFEE SUPPLY CHAIN
Globally, we drink more than 500 billion cups of coffee each year , yet most consumers don’t know that while 67 per cent of the world’s coffee is grown in Latin America, Viet Nam is the world’s second largest coffee producer, producing 1.8 million tons in 2018.
The Central Highlands region produces 95 per cent of Vietnamese coffee, with the majority grown by smallholder farmers like Cil Mup Ha Thoan and his wife, Ro Ong K’Son. They have five children and have been growing coffee for 10 years in a region where forests cover 80 per cent of the land and the majority of the population belongs to the K’Ho ethnic minority group. “We earn decent money by growing coffee. We can pay for our food, electricity and water bills. We can pay the tuition for our children,” says Cil Mup Ha Thoan.
With the export revenue of Viet Nam alone totalling more than $3.5 billion in 2018, coffee plays an important role in the region’s socioeconomic development. But that development has come at a cost. Maintaining high levels of productivity has generated a series of environmental challenges, including deforestation and ecosystem degradation. “The forest is the main thing we have to be concerned about. The second is soil and the third is water conservation,” says Hao Duc Bui, an agronomist expert in the Central Highlands working for the Sustainable Trade Initiative. “Farmers increasingly need more land for cultivation, so they cut down trees. We need to prevent that.”
In pursuit of REDD+, Viet Nam is instituting new land-use planning processes and moving towards deforestation-free, sustainable landscapes, with the Central Highlands at the forefront of efforts to conserve natural forests and biodiversity while sustaining agricultural production. Coffee producers in the Central Highlands face multiple challenges, including aging farms that need to be replanted, drought, debt incurred to pay for fertilizer and falling world coffee prices.
UN-REDD has been working with partners to scale up alternative cultivation practices that can support the long-term sustainability of the coffee sector. The Sustainable Trade Initiative is currently implementing a programme in the Central Highlands that supports coffee farmers in becoming more climate-resilient and cost-efficient while also improving their livelihoods. One component of the programme is training for farmers like Cil and Ro. Training includes lessons on soil regeneration, irrigation, pest control and farming techniques. They also encourage the use of agroforestry and intercropping to diversify incomes and reduce the impact of coffee price fluctuation.
For smallholders, converting to climate-resilient models can provide economic benefits. However, the conversion requires a substantial capital investment, making it financially challenging for poorer households. Together with a consortium of partner organizations, including UNDP, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, the Sustainable Trade Initiative and the European Forest Institute, UN-REDD is now working to establish a zero-deforestation jurisdiction for commodity cultivation in the Central Highlands. The work includes fostering partnerships and developing financial systems that can channel the investment capital required for the conversion to more resilient agricultural production models. The aim is to help green the coffee supply chain of Viet Nam, one bean at a time, while increasing farmers’ livelihoods. – create 16,000 fair-wage jobs. This successful deal is helping an Indonesia natural rubber producer scale up production and yield, while setting aside part of the concession for forest restoration, ecosystem conservation and community programmes.