Across Vietnam's Central Highlands, the coffee harvest has begun, and farmers and businesses alike are busy in the fields, factories, and warehouses – picking, pulping, washing, and drying. In Lac Duong district, Lam Dong, in the hills surrounding the Bi Doup Nui Ba National Park the coffee industry has been central to daily life and the culture of the K’Ho ethnic minorities for decades. But in recent years, with low coffee prices and rising competition from unsuitable intensive agriculture, this culture, and the landscape itself, is being eroded. Many stakeholder groups form local government, to farmer groups, coffee companies and NGOs are working together to improve farmer livelihoods by rejuvenating farms, help companies work with communities to secure supplies of sustainable coffee, and reduce the impact of coffee and agriculture on the environment.
Frontrunner in pro-environment programmes
Lam Dong province has been a frontrunner in implementing environmental programmes and approved a Green Growth Action Plan in 2018. In November 2020, they released a plan to strictly limit the expansion of greenhouses and intensive agriculture. This was based on the latest policies to maximise the province’s potential for sustainable agricultural development taking into account that nature and culture-based products are key to Lam Dong’s vision for continued rural growth. SNV, through the Café-REDD project, is supporting this vision, by developing a multi-stakeholder, community-led, sustainable economic and development plan for the area.
The project is working with 1,500 farmers (about half of the local coffee farmers) to improve their practices, as well as local forest and agricultural agencies, and coffee companies, to normalise sustainable and resilient farming practices that maximise the benefits to the community of their arabica harvests. The project has partnered with suppliers of macadamia and persimmon seedlings to introduce these trees to provide shade to the coffee and diversified income sources. It has partnered with coffee buyers to train farmers on management practices and harvesting and shorten the supply chain through direct relationships. And the project has established digital monitoring and traceability tools that prove the provenance of the coffee and that it is deforestation-free.
More than just taste
But a sustainable coffee industry is not just about supplying tasty, inclusive, and deforestation-free, coffee. It must be marketed and sold too. Therefore, building demand for the products, and capacity of the enterprises to market their products, is critical to achieving good value and return on investments by the project, the farmers themselves, and the companies.
To do this, SNV is providing a range of different marketing advisory services, to maximise the ability of the different groups of stakeholders and enterprises to market their produce. This will enable them to collectively grow brand recognition of coffee from the area and create strong brands and products associated with the district, the landscape and its values.
With coffee companies, the project is working to build brand awareness, and pivot their sales and marketing efforts to ensure business continuity in 2020 and 2021 despite the challenges posed to their business models by COVID-19. These include an increase in the costs of shipping to export markets, inability to attend trade-fairs and expos, and a collapse in the tourism market affecting high-end hotel chains which were previously some of their key customers.
The project supports a number of non-coffee ‘community enterprises’ - small-scale entrepreneurs and local farmer groups, especially young businesses and women-led businesses, to invest in employment generating activities that can sustainably enhance the income of local people alongside the coffee industry. The project is building their capacity in basic marketing and communication techniques, including how to maximise their digital presence and the use of social media as a sales and distribution mechanism.
Stronger digital presence
With the local government, Lac Duong District People’s Committee, the project is building a stronger digital presence that can promote and showcase content about the different products and core values of businesses from the district.
These advisory services will be provided until March 2021, although the longer-term impacts of the capacity and content created will continue to benefit the companies, farmers and stakeholders for years to come.
The long-term objective of the project is that Lac Duong is internationally and domestically recognised as an area where high quality coffee is grown and produced to high standards. In addition, its association with beautiful and important natural landscapes and cultural heritage will also add value to the businesses and farmers in the area. This will lead to increased demand for these products, enabling companies to scale up their operations and ultimately provide more and better employment and livelihood opportunities for local people on the coffee sector and other non-coffee enterprises.