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Vietnamese coffee growers affected by climate change

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(7 May 2017) LEADIN
Vietnamese coffee growers are working to future-proof their crops from the impact of climate change.
Heavy downpours during the last harvest season after a period of severe drought have severely impacted bean quality.
Vietnam is the world's second largest coffee producer after Brazil.
STORYLINE:
Le Van Huong regularly checks the coffee beans stored in bags at his home. He's afraid his two tonnes of beans could go bad if they're left to sit too long.
Although the harvest ended more than three months ago, Huong has only been able to sell half of the crop yield.
It is difficult to shift the rest because of of its poor quality.
Many beans are black or dark brown – instead of the typical pale green of raw coffee. This is because of unusual weather experienced during the crop season.
After a sustained period of drought, flooding rains came and affected many of Huong's crops.
He's been growing coffee on a two hectare plantation for more than 20 years in Ban Me Thuot city of Dak Lak province in the central highlands of Vietnam – the country's coffee capital.
On an average year, he would harvest about seven tonnes of dried coffee beans. That would earn him about $11,000 USD dollars.
But this crop, he's made much less.
"Last year, the El Nino hit at the time when the coffee cherries needed water most to develop. The lack of water resulted in smaller coffee beans, much smaller than other years. Thus, the output was reduced significantly," Huong says.
"Then comes the unusual rain. Not only the coffee output dropped by half, the quality of the coffee beans was also affected."
Traditionally, farmers dry coffee beans in the sun for a week before they are husked. But heavy rain during harvest period forced them to use electric driers, which reduced the coffee quality.
Like Huong, thousands of other Vietnamese coffee farmers have also had to cope with the severe weather.
But steps are being made to improve the situation.
"We have studied and implemented several measures such as applying new irrigating system that saves water and started to grow new breed of coffee that is more resilient to severe climate changes," says Bui Quang Vinh, an agricultural engineer at the Western Higlands Agricultural Scient and Technology Institute in Ban Me Thuot city.
Vietnam is the world largest exporter of robusta beans, which is mainly used for instant coffee production.
Last year's trade figure show that Vietnam exported 1.8 million tonnes of coffee, accounting for almost one fifth of the global coffee market.
But volumes are expected to fall this year, and international coffee companies are already looking for alternative markets to make up the shortfall.
Le Hoang Diep Thao, founder and CEO of TNI coffee, Vietnam's leading company in instant coffee and other blends, wants the government to help ensure the industry's long term future.
"We urge the government and related offices to take meaningful actions (to cope with climate changes) to protect Vietnamese coffee," she says.
"And coffee companies should do business in a sustainable way to preserve the material resources. We should work together to preserve the soil, water and breed for viable coffee resources."

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