From Seed to Coffee Tree



It takes a newly sprouted coffee plant three to four years to produce its first clusters of fragrant white flowers, and it will not reach full production until it is about seven years old. Most trees will produce fruit for twenty to twenty-five years. In some locations such as Mexico and Brazil, coffee plants produce flowers for six to eight weeks, but in locations closer to the equator such as Kenya or Columbia, a coffee plant can have flowers, immature berries, and ripe berries simultaneously, which makes harvesting a manual and labor-intensive process



Coffee Economics

French colonists introduced coffee to Vietnam in 1857. The central highlands region around Buon Ma Thuot proved a perfect area for growing Robusta beans. After the long war, the government, supported by development agencies, launched a vast coffee-growing programme. In just two decades, Vietnam became the second coffee exporter in the world after Brazil, and the number one for Robusta – one of the two main coffee species, often used in instant coffee.

This spectacular comeback has been a huge boon to the economy – coffee is one of Vietnam's key export products, generating an income of more than $1.5bn. In total, the coffee sector represents 3% of national GDP, providing a livelihood for around 2.6 million people – 600,000 of them farmers and many from minority ethnic groups. Only 5% to 7% of the total production is used for domestic consumption; the rest is exported, mostly to the US and Europe.


Sustainable Practise

But the coffee miracle has come at a terrible cost. In the 1990s, when coffee prices were high, entire forests were razed to make space for more coffee, grown as a monoculture with heavy use of agrochemicals and over-irrigation. While the acreage under coffee expanded rapidly, the development of training and processing infrastructure could not keep up. The result were lower quality beans and widespread pollution, soil and water degradation, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity.

These issues are so critical that, for the first time, the government, farmers, traders and global food giants see the need to develop sustainable practices. They are working with social and conservation groups such as the Rainforest Alliance, the 4C Association and the Fairtrade Foundation to find ways to make coffee farming more productive, while reducing the cost on the environment.

Farms that earlier had only produced coffee, now also grow sugar cane, pepper vines, pimentos and other crops. These crops improve the soil, protect the coffee plants from pests and provide additional income. Farmers have also planted hundreds of trees, such as acacia and papaya, to shield coffee plants from the sun, protect the soil and reduce the amount of water needed. And they have learned how to reduce their reliance on agrochemicals, segregate their waste, harvest only ripe cherries and protect the wildlife on their farms.

Coffee farmers in Vietnam generally earn more than the average per capita income of $1,300 a year, and certified coffee attracts an additional premium, which they often invest in their children's education.

These changes are encouraging, but are still limited. In Latin America, 75% of the coffee is grown according to sustainable standards, while in Vietnam it is only 10%.

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