One of the first countries in the new colonial coffee order of the mid-1900s French settlers started growing coffee in Vietnam almost 40 years before coffee was introduced to the much more famous coffee origins such as Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa. Although it would take the South-East Asian giant another 150 years to consolidate its place as the world’s 2nd largest coffee producer, today few in the industry doubt that any other nation will ever challenge Vietnam for the Nr 2 spot. But while Vietnam continues to grow, just where is its future headed? This report, Part 5 of a special series written for the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal,analyzes how Vietnam is taking aggressive steps to ensure that a future of quality coffee and sustainable practices will prevail, with the official goal set for at least 25 percent of the entire national production being certified sustainable by 2015.
BY MAJA WALLENGREN
When world coffee prices crashed to historic lows during the 2000-2004 coffee crisis because of massive over-production, governments and international institutions told coffee producers around the globe they needed to look at improving quality, raise local consumption and plan for the diversification of crops in order to have a shot at a sustainable future.
Ten years later, and the Vietnamese coffee industry has moved into the fast track lane to ensure this is happening. As the volumes of certified sustainable coffee have increased steadily during the last five years the government has laid out ambitious goals for the future.
“The government’s target is to see that at least 25 percent of all Vietnam’s coffee is certified as sustainable by 2015 and we believe that is a realistic goal,” Do Van Nam, Vietnam’s Minister of Processing, Agro-Forestry and Fishery, has told both local and international coffee events repeatedly during the last year.
While such targets may sound like unrealistic dreams to many in the coffee industry, Vietnam’s rapid ascent to become a major player in the world trade has shown its ability in taking words to concrete action.
By 2011 total production in Vietnam of certified sustainable coffee such as 4C, Rainforest Alliance and Utz had reached 115,000 tons, or close to 2 million 60-kilogram bags, according to Dutch coffee traders Nedcoffee’s Vietnam office. This is equivalent to about 10 percent of the entire production in the 2010-11 crop year, or more than the entire annual output in Central American countries like Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
As the government of Vietnam is continuing to support policies that encourage industry stake-holders from producers to trade to improve sustainable practices all indications are for that share to continue to growth.
“The Government of Vietnam continues to encourage coffee growers to participate in sustainable production certification programs. Certified sustainable coffee production has been increasing among farmers and traders as the industry seeks to reap the benefit from the premium for certified sustainable crops,” said the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its last attaché report on Vietnam.
An important focus of the program is to not only increase production, but also raise yields and the “export availability of sustainably grown coffee” in Vietnam, while it at the same time works on how to make the implementation of standards, farmer access to financing and how to address the issue of climate change, a report on the project said. The project receives funding from leading partners Mondelez International, Nestle, DE Master Blender 1753 and German roasters Tchibo.
“As a food company the long-term sustainable viability of food supply is at risk and to address this we are going to have to change our business model and the way we have used to work with our supply chains,” said Neil Lacroix, Director of Sustainable Supply Chains, Mondelez International, which until last November was known as a unit of Kraft Foods. (More details in full article)
And across Vietnam, coffee farmers have enthusiastically embraced the new sustainable practices.
“Most of the farmers here join the 4C program because of the sustainable development aspect, because they want to produce high quality coffee in order to get access to value-added prices and we started working with the 4C program here in the region in 2008, holding skill-training workshops to improve the cultivation practices and harvesting techniques,” said Duong Quoc Hung, in charge of 4C relations with the traders and exporters Intimex, which buys coffee from producers across the Dak Lak and Lam Dong provinces.
Today the word “sustainability” – a word which basic meaning and what it should symbolize in the coffee trade just a decade ago was still a topic of lively and heated debate in the industry – has become a mainstream word among Vietnamese coffee growers.
And the new line of sustainable coffees from Vietnam does not only include certified brands like 4C, Rainforest and Fair Trade, but Vietnamese coffees are also starting to emerge in the specialty market. In the last few years Japanese roasters have successfully imported micro lots of strictly high grown arabica beans from the cool highlands around Da Lat in the southern Dam Long province where …
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Maja Wallengren first visited Vietnam in 1993 and had written about all aspects of the Vietnamese rise in coffee since then through 17 trips across the South-East Asian grower.