Sustainable Coffee Workshop: the road ahead for an effective incorporation of coffee farmers

Sustainable Coffee Workshop: the road ahead for an effective incorporation of coffee farmers

SNV and its implementing partners of the Sustainable Coffee Programme came together to discuss how to more effectively incorporate coffee farmers into the sustainable coffee value chain through Field Level Projects.

These discussions brought to light important lessons for national and international efforts to strengthen the sustainable coffee industry, benefiting farmers, the public and private sectors and the environment. Lessons discussed include more how to more effectively train farmers and better manage farmer groups and cooperatives to encourage membership.

Coffee production is one of the most important industries in Vietnam. Coffee is the second largest agricultural export product in value, generating a turnover of more than USD 3.6 billion and providing a livelihood for approximately 635,000 households. To remain viable, however, the sector needs reform. It is currently facing a number of threats including from the production of low quality coffee beans, reduced production from ageing trees, diminishing soil fertility due to excessive agro-input usage and reduced water availability due to over irrigation and climate change. Field Level Projects therefore focus on farm level change – implementing partners work with farmers to assist them transition to more sustainable practices and increase income through training in sustainable techniques, organisation into groups and cooperatives and access to affordable and high quality  inputs and finance. To make this work more effective, implementing partners, including representatives from international and national coffee companies and consultancies, identified common successes, challenges and ways forward for their work.

A key difficulty faced by all projects is convincing farmers to change from their traditional farming techniques. With high levels of poverty, and a lack of understanding about the coffee market and the benefits of sustainable coffee production, farmers are hesitant to risk new techniques that they fear will reduce yields. In addition, farmers in Vietnam are used to working individually – with the majority of farms around one hectare in size and most farmers not organised in groups or cooperatives.  When asked to join cooperatives and groups, farmers often resist, not trusting membership to deliver benefits. There is currently no best practice model for farmer groups and cooperatives in Vietnam - a gap field level projects are hoping to fill. A key challenge as discussed during the session is strengthening the links between farmer groups, cooperatives and farmers and financial institutions. Current banking policies and procedures do not fit with the reality of smallholder farming – making loans hard to access.

In addition to the challenges enumerated, came a number of successes stories - farmer groups and cooperatives are showing promising signs of increased membership and capacity and understanding of effective models and management structures is increasing. Regular farmer group meetings, with interesting content and active encouragement of team work, have helped to maintain and increase the membership of some groups. Farmer training has been rolled out successfully, training that focuses on practical skills and is tailored to the local context and the specific needs of participating farmers has been the most effective in changing perceptions and behaviours.

All participants agreed that building the trust of farmers, through active relationship building and a clear demonstration of the benefits that sustainable coffee production, through group organisation, needs to be a focus.  In addition, a multi stakeholder approach, including local authorities and organisations, government, financial institutions and input suppliers is needed.

Mr Paul Klein Hofmeijer, Programme Officer at IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative, was very happy with the workshop saying  it will increase the effectiveness and impact of the projects and assist in a sector wide approach to increasing sustainable coffee production -  “most of the participants are competitive organisations, and the fact that they are willing to share their challenges and successes shows that … there is a growing understanding that sustainability issues related to coffee cannot be solved by one company alone.”

The workshop was organised by SNV and attended by implementing partners and Sustainable Coffee Programme donors, IDH, The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

SNV Vietnam is coordinating the implementation of Field Level Projects for the Sustainable Coffee Program. SNV is an international not-for-profit development organisation, with over 20 years work in Vietnam. Our global team of local and international advisors work with local partners to equip communities, businesses and organisations with the tools, knowledge and connections they need to increase their incomes and gain access to basic services, empowering them to break the cycle of poverty and guide their own development.

The Sustainable Coffee Programme, powered by IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative is a global, pre-competitive, public private initiative, with the ambition to help bring global, sustainable coffee production and sourcing practices to scale. By aligning stakeholder investments in producer support programs, which improve farmer livelihoods, while preserving natural resources and enabling coffee producers to become more resilient in an ever-changing market.