Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Arabica coffee project a fantastic hope

VietNamNet Bridge – The project on developing Arabica coffee in Vietnam, which was kicked off eight years ago, is facing failure.

This is an ambitious project that aims to develop the Arabica coffee plantation area in 15 northern mountainous provinces, allowing Vietnam to export Arabica coffee to the world. The investment capital for the first phase of the project was VND800bil ($50mil), a part of which came from French AFD loans.

Wrong investment?

The 2005-2006 crop provided 18,000 tonnes of Arabica, and 11,000 tones were exported, down by 1,000 tonnes in comparison with the previous crop.

Nguyen Nam Hai, Director of Cafecontrol, said that the quality of Vietnam-grown Arabica was alarmingly bad, with the size of coffee beans becoming smaller and smaller.

“There are problems in picking and processing processes,” said Mr Hai.

As a result, a large proportion of product cannot be exported.

“Vietnam-made Arabica is just average quality in comparison with the world’s products. Though Vietnam has exported Arabica for the last eight years, Vietnam is still not a big name in the world,” said Mr Hai.

He thinks that the problem lies in the coffee seed. Catimor is the kind of seed, which is being planted widely in Vietnam; however, Catimor cannot bring good-quality products.

The height of the land for growing Arabica, according to experts, can decide the quality and taste of Arabica. Arabica coffee has been grown on land not high enough above sea level. It is more difficult to grow Arabica than Robusta, which is popular in the Central Highlands and southeastern areas.

The habit of Vietnamese farmers of picking ripe and unripe coffee beans at the same time has also been cited as one of the reasons behind the bad quality of Vietnam-made Arabica.

Hope still cherished

According to the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association (Vicofa), the total area for growing Arabica in the 2005-2006 crop was 2,000 ha higher than the previous crop, about 20,500 ha, mostly in Lam Dong, Quang Tri, Son La and other northern provinces. Of these provinces, Lam Dong can provide 10,000 tones of Arabica every year, 50% of total Arabica output.

Under the development strategy drawn up by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the plantation area will be five times greater in the next five years than the current level, which will allow the industry to harvest 150-200,000 tones every year.

The area for growing Robusta will gradually decrease from 500,000 ha to 400,000 ha in the next five years. Doan Trieu Nhan, Vicofa Chairman, stressed that it was an effective solution to get sustainable development, while helping reduce the overproduction of Robusta.

In addition, according to Mr Nhan, Vietnamese producers and exporters will be able to earn more money with Arabica coffee. Arabica prices are always 1.5-2 times higher than Robusta in the international market, and Arabica has never seen overproduction as Robusta has.

However, it is not so easy to develop Arabica plantation area and exports. Nguyen Van An, Director of Thai Hoa Trading Company, the biggest Arabica exporter, said that farmers and processors have to change their habits of farming and processing. They also have to make investment in equipment and technologies suitable to processing Arabica, while they need advice from scientists on the areas for growing and other technical issues.

“Vietnam is a big Robusta exporter, and Vietnamese farmers have been growing Robusta for many years. However, this does not mean that they will be naturally successful in growing Arabica,” Mr. An said.

orginally posted 13 December 06 on