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Coffee output rises, but shoddy farming cuts into export sales
24 | 08 | 2007
Coffee insiders spoke with Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam (Vietnam Economic Times) about the role the java bean is expected to play in the country’s future and how to get its quality up to international standards.

Nguyen Tri Ngoc, director of the Cultivation Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD)

Coffee is an agricultural product with a lot of comparative advantages.

In Decision No 3988/QD-BNN-TT issued by MARD, Minister Cao Duc Phat has asked enterprises to review their coffee acreage and focus on growing coffee in areas with high output.

According to the minister the intensive farming scheme would help raise the output from the present 1.5 tonnes per hectare to 2.4 tonnes per hectare by 2010.

Under the decision, the four Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) provinces of Dak Lak, Lam Dong, Gia Lai and Dak Nong have been chosen for pilot projects to intensively farm coffee, particularly Robusta coffee.

Criteria for selection include: layers of basaltic soil at least 70-cm thick; good irrigation conditions during the dry season; and a harvest output of more than 1.5 tonne per hectare.

At present, some 200,000ha have been earmarked for intensive coffee farming, of which 25,000ha need further investment in irrigation.

In addition, another 250,000ha have been zoned off for coffee plantations.

It is estimated that capital investment for the intensive farming regions will require a huge sum of money.

Each year from now to 2010, Viet Nam plans to put 1,500ha under coffee cultivation at an estimated cost of VND50 million per hectare.

The cost includes agricultural extension activities and 1,500 training courses for farmers (the budget for each training course standing at VND15 million).

Nguyen Van Sinh, deputy director of Dak Lak Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Dak Lak has the largest coffee growing area in the centre of the country – 174,500 ha with an output of 380,000 tonnes per year.

In 2006, coffee export turnover accounted for more than 90 per cent of the province’s total export turnover, and 60 per cent of the province’s GDP.

At a recent meeting, the provincial People’s Council approved a plan to limit the coffee plantations to 170,000 ha.

In reality more than half of the coffee trees are already over 15 years old, the coffee enterprises should develop a plan to "rejuvenate" these coffee plantations to ensure stable output.

Le Ngoc Bau, deputy director of the Institute for Agro-forestry Science and Technology in Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) (WASI)

With an output of 1.7 tonnes per hectare, Viet Nam’s coffee output is considered the highest in the world.

Thanks to the good climate, with monsoon and dry seasons, the land in Tay Nguyen is suitable for coffee growing.

But the quality of coffee beans is something we need to focus on more.

Some of the causes leading to poor quality could be the irrigation method, nutrition supplies and harvesting time.

All these inappropriate techniques have made Vietnamese coffee less competitive in the international market. The price of one tonne of Vietnamese coffee is about US$50-70 lower than those of other countries.

Another factor affecting coffee quality is the drying technique. The Government needs to adopt special policies to help enterprises and co-operatives have access to credit to build drying yards.

The current method of processing wet coffee requires huge initial capital investment in purchasing equipment and proper facilities to treat waste water. Only large scale production units have sufficient capital to apply this method.

Doan Trieu Nhan, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Cacao and Coffee Association (VICOFA)

As from October 1st, 2007, the Vietnamese coffee certificate requires higher standards in order to meet the criteria of Resolution 420 adopted in May 2004 by the International Coffee Organisation (ICO).

This is a basic foundation for the country to export coffee to other countries.

Up to now, 25 coffee exporters have notified the ICO about the quality of their exported coffee, but not Viet Nam.

Luckily, Viet Nam’s coffee standards 4193:2005 have been acknowledged by the ICO. This is an important document for Vietnamese coffee to be on a par with the 25 coffee exporters that have already met ICO standards.

But in reality, Viet Nam’s standards have not yet been accepted by importers or buyers. This is something that requires us to have a strong quality control system in place.

I think that the 2005, 2006 action taken by 10 European ports was a good but expensive lesson for Viet Nam.

Quality control at those ports singled out 1,485,750 coffee bags of low quality – each bag weighing 60kg – of which 1,074,500 bags were from Viet Nam.

So in my opinion, to secure a foot hole in the international market, it is imperative for VICOFA to uphold high quality in coffee production.

Bui Thi Lien, inspector from the Trung Nguyen coffee company

Trung Nguyen company has signed contracts with farming households to buy their coffee beans at a competitive price if their products are certified by EuroGap.

The EuroGap programme has come up with 14 criteria to make sure coffee is safe for consumption and environmentally friendly.

One of the criteria to receive the certificate is that the farmers must submit a report on their coffee plantations and how the beans are processed.

To many farmers, this is a tough requirement, but if they can meet it, they gain VND1.500 more for each kg of coffee compared to the market price.

But the difficulty we’re facing at present is the cost of the certificate – 200 euro each. However, I think the cost of the certificate would be lower if the farm was over 20ha. Therefore, if several farming households worked together to create a network, I’m sure they could save money.

Source: Vietnam News
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