September 29, 2014

Tackling the coffee challenge in Vietnam

In test trials in Vietnam, coffee farmers have reduced the use of fertilizer by 20%. The result: Yield and profitability are up 10%, while carbon footprint is reduced by 50%.
Vietnam Coffee
Vietnam Coffee

The coffee challenge is three-fold, and follows the same pattern as many other food crops. Firstly there is a growing demand that has to be met. Secondly, consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable production. And thirdly, farmers need to improve their profitability. In a public-private partnership model, solutions are shared through demo farm plots and extension services.

Vietnam is the number one exporter of Robusta in the world, using approximately 550,000 hectares to grow the coffee beans – by and large by smallholders. To generate sufficient income farmers have to increase the yield. This is also important to reduce the pressure on deforestation and biodiversity.

Strong government support

During a regional WEF New Vision for Agriculture meeting in June 2010, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Vietnam, Cao Duc Phat, requested that participants join forces to help find more sustainable ways to grow coffee. Following this meeting, a group of international companies – from international roasters, and input companies to international coffee traders and NGOs – decided to establish a public-private partnership. With strong governmental support, the ambition was clear from the start: To develop a model that promotes sustainable coffee production, putting the smallholder farmer at the center.

The initiative gained strong support from the Vietnamese government, and Minister Phat launched a coffee task force. The same was done for other strategic crops, such as corn, soybean and tea.

Increased farming precision

Vietnamese farmers are experienced fertilizer users, but the task force identified early on that there was a huge potential for improvements in adjusting their fertilization practice.

“The overall concept when we meet farmers is what we call the 4-right concept. Right fertilizer, right rate, right time and right place,” says Huynh Nhat Tan, Chief Agronomist and Crop Expert Manager at Yara Vietnam. This approach ensures a more precise application, which benefits both the farmers and the environment.

The results of the project have been outstanding. By switching to a balanced nutritional program and a more suitable source of nitrogen – mainly nitrate-based – the farmers have reduced fertilizer use by 20%. At the same time yields and farmer profits have increased by 10%. Last, but not least, are the environmental effects. The carbon footprint is reduced by more than 50% and water usage by 40%.

“What we have seen in Vietnam is the power of a good example, and this is a kind of partnership that we're currently working to develop in 11 countries, in Africa, Asia and Latin America,” says Lisa Dreier, Head of Food Security and Development Initiatives at the World Economic Forum USA.