Improving biodiversity of coffee landscapes in Vietnam
First Pilot Project
Improving biodiversity levels not only has positive effects for the environment, but is also the key to sustainable, successful and climate change resilient coffee production. The first pilot project on this topic has been successfully implemented in Vietnam. Here are some stories about the positive effects that the farmers involved are experiencing as a result of being part of this pilot.
Farmer Phan Dinh Tu
Farmer Phan Dinh Tu and his wife bought a 1ha coffee farm 10 years ago in the Gia Lai province of Vietnam. All the work on the coffee farm is shared by them without additional workers. With a love for coffee, Phan Dinh Tu always wanted to learn more about taking care of the trees in the best way and how to produce high-quality coffee. When Vinhhiep Company Limited introduced the 4C certification program for sustainable coffee production in 2017 and the pilot project “Biodiversity Performance Tool (BPT) for Coffee Landscapes in Vietnam” they were very excited to join and have been active participants.
Since joining the project, they have greatly improved the biodiversity of their farm and they actively took part in seminars, trainings and on-farm exchanges. By no longer using pesticides, they have saved up to 6 million VND per year and noticed that birds, insects, and reptiles appear more often. Farmer Phan Dinh Tu likes that the 4C certification program and the biodiversity project improve his health since he is no longer exposed to pesticides and herbicides, and both the coffee and other crops, such as pepper, from his garden are of higher quality.
They now also actively encourage neighboring households not to use herbicides, but increase the use of organic fertilizers instead and apply good farming practices. This year, they rented 3 more hectares of coffee and will continue to apply what they learned about biodiversity in their coffee farm. They also want to further educate surrounding households to learn more from their best practices.
Farmer Dang Thi Xuan
Farmer Dang Thi Xuan was born in 1961. Currently, she lives in Dong Tam village, Bau Kan commune, ChuProng district, Gia Lai province. In the past, she had worked at a Tea Farm in Bau Kan commune, ChuProng district, but in 1995, she and her husband Nguyen Tuan Thanh started to grow coffee in their spare time. In 2010, she retired and stayed at home to take care of the coffee farm with her husband. Currently, the area of her family’s coffee farm is about 2 hectares. Usually, she and her husband take care of the coffee farm alone, just in the harvest season, she hires 2-3 people to help them for a month. Her family has participated in the 4C certification program for 8 years and in a pilot project using the Biodiversity Performance Tool (BPT) for Coffee Landscapes in Vietnam since 2021.
She realizes that her husband and herself have changed a lot from when her family started taking part in the sustainable coffee production program and pilot project to increase biodiversity at their coffee farm. Since being certified under 4C, her family has agreed to not use herbicides and minimize the use of pesticides. With the support from 4C, Vinh Hiep and experts from ADC their awareness and knowledge about biodiversity has also been raised. She and her husband built a map of the current status of biodiversity on their farm to find solutions to enhance biodiversity as well as building an action plan. Now, her coffee farm is more diverse than the ever with some local crops such as Avocado, Durian, Jackfruit and Rambutan with the aim to offer windbreak, shade and food. Besides that, she also planted more trees, managed and pruned branches for rows of Senna siamea, Litsea glutinosa, and Dalbergia tonkinensis Prain.
Along the subdivision and in places where the coffee was not yet covering, she planted Arachis pintoi to cover the soil. She also planted pineapples at the contour lines to both keep the soil and have pineapples to eat. Currently, the trees that he family planted with supported by the project are growing well, with a height of 0.5-2m depending on the type of tree. Since participating in the 4C certification program, and the BPT pilot project, she has protected the vegetation in the buffer zone along streams and ponds with a width of about 50m, so the water source is always abundant, providing water for irrigation of the coffee farm. With direct advice from ADC and Vinh Hiep, Ms. Xuan’s family installed warning signs prohibiting wildlife hunting and fishing in the coffee water source area, so birds, bees and fish are protected. She also limited the use of chemical fertilizers but increased the use of microbial fertilizers made from coffee pods combined with cow dung and other by-products.
Since joining the project, she and her husband actively propagated for other households to learn and apply these practices. However, the biggest difficulty now that she and coffee farming households are facing is that the price of fertilizer materials is 2 times higher than 1 year ago. On the other hand, although the quality of coffee from her family’s coffee farm is rated better than regular coffee, there is no difference in price. A big challenge that she is facing is the coffee farms next door if they have not changed their habits in coffee farming, and abuse pesticides, then her coffee farm will also be affected.
Farmer Le Van Ha
Farmer Le Van Ha and his wife are currently growing 2ha of coffee at Lamua village, Bau Kan commune, ChuProng district, Gia Lai province. As almost all households in Bau Kan commune, coffee is the main income source for his family. Usually, he and his wife work on the coffee farm. They have more than 20 years of experience in coffee production, 10 years in participating in the 4C certification program and more than a year of taking part in the project “Biodiversity Performance Tool (BPT) for Coffee Landscapes in Vietnam”. Since joining the project, Mr. Ha has gained even more knowledge about biodiversity and its role and effects in coffee farms. Mr. Ha has applied suitable biodiversity enhancement solutions to his farm with the support and technical advice of ADC and Vinh Hiep company.
Many different kinds of trees grow on his family’s farm, such as durian, avocado, jackfruit, Senna siamea and Pennisetum purpurrerum, but coffee is the main crop. Pennisetum purpurrerum, jackfruit, and avocado are grown along the subdivision line. They also keep goats on the farm and they use the manure together with coffee pods to create a nutritious organic fertilizer for both the fruit trees and coffee trees. This not only saves them the cost of buying chemical fertilizers, it also loosens and nourishes the soil for the durability of coffee leaves. Besides, his family’s annual income from goat farming accounts for 50% of coffee income. In addition, he also has income from other crops on the coffee farm, accounting for 5-6% of income from coffee.
Since joining the project, he has been an active participant, often sharing his knowledge of sustainable coffee farming and enhancing biodiversity in coffee farms with neighbors and friends. He and other coffee growers in the village self-learned more about biodiversity on the internet, regularly asking Vinh Hiep company and a team of experts from ADC for advice. His friends commented that his farm has changed remarkably: the soil is looser and more fertile, the coffee leaves are greener, the branches are strong, and there are more beneficial insects such as ladybugs, bees, worms, and crickets. Currently, the shading rate in Mr. Ha’s coffee garden is at 3-4%. He is a coffee grower who says no to herbicides, minimizes the use of chemical pesticides, and makes his own organic pesticides from locally available materials such as garlic, locust, ginger, and lemongrass.
He shared that “I follow the direction of sustainable production, enhancing biodiversity is a way for farmers to save themselves, only then can we ensure the health of coffee farmers, If we have to come into contact with pesticides every day, farmers will get sick sooner or later, and coffee drinkers will also get sick, so our mind will not be at peace”.
Even with this knowledge and experience, the implementation of biodiversity in coffee farms on a regional scale will face many challenges such as initial capital needed to invest in buying plants and seeds, and it also takes a lot of time. To raise awareness about biodiversity in a large area with departments, branches, and organizations is necessary. According to Le Van Ha, the support of the consulting unit and Vinh Hiep company is crucial for his success.
Farmer Nguyễn Anh Vũ
Nguyen Anh Vu, born in 1977, lives in Tam Diep Village, Ho Leng Commune, Dak Doa district, Gia Lai Province. His family complies with sustainable coffee farming techniques according to the 4C standard since 2015. Since early 2021 he also participates in the pilot project “Biodiversity Performance Tool (BPT) for Coffee Landscapes in Vietnam”. With more than 20 years of experience in coffee production on a farm area of 3.5ha, he and his wife take care of their coffee garden every day. At harvest time, he hires 5-10 people to harvest coffee for 1-2 months. In addition to growing coffee as the main crop, he now also grows some native plants such as jackfruit, Tagetes erecta L., pepper, avocado, lemon, orange, mango and coconut. In addition, he also planted new varieties such as macadamia. The fence around his farm is also different from other households, instead of a steel fence, he uses a fence of Kalanchoe pinnata (Lam.) Pers, of which the majority are fortune trees, and help create a beautiful landscape. Such “living fences” are inhabited by animals such as reptiles, birds and insects.
Since joining the program of sustainable coffee farming, he has changed many of his habits. Previously he used herbicides for weeds on the farm, now he uses a lawnmower and uses the grass as fertilizer for the coffee. He observed that when he was using herbicides, as well as chemical pesticides, they destroyed harmful but also beneficial soil organisms, and especailly the coffee branches near the ground carried only little fruit. However, from when he stopped using herbicides (6-7 years ago) and increased the use of microorganic fertilizers made from coffee husks, bagasse and cow dung, the experts from ADC and Vinh Hiep company have found that the soil microbiome at Mr. Vu’s coffee farm has diversified and they observed many organisms such as earthworms, crickets, snails, red ants, and also reptiles such as salamanders and snakes. Previously, in Mr. Vu’s farm, there was termite fungus, a beneficial native fungus in the Central Highlands. “But over the past 10 years, this fungus has almost disappeared in coffee gardens, because people use many herbicides and pesticides” he says. “By saying no to herbicides and enhancing soil protection, applying organic fertilizers and weeds cover the ground , this fungus has reappeared, making me very happy”.
However, he also shared that the difficulties he encountered. It took more care, pruning coffee leaves, cutting grass and applying organic fertilizer rather than chemical fertilizers or herbicides. But comparing the leaves and coffee branches of his garden, the branches are green, strong, and durable, while in other gardens, the leaves and branches are weaker. He also saves the cost of buying chemical fertilizers or pesticides, weed control, and spraying. It is estimated that in 2022, he will save 20 million VND from not buying chemical fertilizers when he makes his own microbial organic fertilizer. He now wants to spread his knowledge about enhancing biodiversity in coffee farms and sustainable coffee production to neighboring households. He also wants Vinh Hiep company, ADC and 4C to receive a lot of support from other coffee growers in the region to make a big change from the monoculture of coffee trees to intercropping and producing high-quality coffee, so that more people around the world get to know our coffee and learn how Vietnamese farmers cherish and care for their own small coffee garden.
Improving living conditions of smallholders in Colombia with 4C certification
The De Los Andes Cooperative, a non-profit organization founded in 1961, has been involved with 4C since 2014. It counts more than four hundred smallholder farmers in the municipality of Jardin in Colombia as their members. They have all chosen 4C certification to grow coffee more productively and sustainably.
De Los Andes Cooperative
More than four hundred smallholder farmers in the municipality of Jardin in Colombia have chosen 4C certification to grow coffee more productively and sustainably. They are all members of the De Los Andes Cooperative, a non-profit organization founded in 1961, which is committed to ensure that growers receive a fair share for their effort. The cooperative is located in Andes, Antioquia, one of the major coffee growing regions of Colombia.
The Cooperative has been involved with 4C since 2014. Farmers are proud to participate in an international sustainability certification program such as 4C, states Maria Hernandez, Project Director at the De Los Andes Cooperative, as 4C targets sustainability through taking care of the environment, water resources, reforestation and soil conservation as well as looking at social aspects such as good working conditions and respect of human and labour rights. “4C makes the farmers more aware that they have a business which needs good administration and improvement plans to comply with market requirements. Also, 4C is demanding in terms of training, not only for the owner or manager of the farm, but also for workers and the staff on the farm”, outlines Maria the benefits of the 4C System for the farmers.
Through continuous improvement plans which have to be set up by 4C certified units, impact on the ground with regard to environmental, social and economic sustainability is generated. Support with technical assistance is provided by the De Los Andes Cooperative to its farmers to facilitate the implementation of the measures stated in the improvement plan. For example, with regard to the 4C requirement to conserve and use water resources efficiently, the Cooperative promotes the installation of the best value water treatment system, which have been tested to comply with local regulation. Technicians from the Cooperative provide the farmers with a list of materials and show them how to get the water treatment up and running. The Cooperative also searches for co-funders that would like to help with finance. 4C is continuously working on increasing and better measuring the impact of 4C certification on the ground. Constant dialogue with its certified coffee units provides 4C valuable insights on where further support is required.
The Cooperative is the first coffee growing cooperative using GRAS (Global Risk Assessment Services), a web-based tool based on remote sensing and GIS technology which provides comprehensive sustainability-related geo-referenced information on biodiversity, land use change, carbon stock and social indices. Occurrence of land use change can be verified by provided heat maps and using a simple to interpret greenness index called the Enhanced Vegetation Index (EVI), which allows to identify the history of the land use and to detect the exact point in time of land use changes. 416 coffee farmers of the De Los Andes Cooperative have been analyzed by GRAS with respect to biodiversity, potential land use change, carbon stock and social indices using a semi-automated methodology for sustainability risk assessment. Based on the assessment, the overall GRAS Index has been calculated in order to identify farmers with a high sustainability risk and to exclude those farmers from certification which have been involved in e.g. the conversion of primary forests.
Thus, the tool supports the establishment of deforestation free coffee supply chains, which is more and more requested by the markets. Auditors can use it for risk analysis prior to certification. Trainings provide the farmers with the knowledge to prevent further deforestation.
Looking to the future Maria says “De Los Andes is looking forward to further deepening its cooperation with 4C to improve the living conditions of farmers by helping them to increase yields and income and at the same time safeguarding biodiversity and carbon stock. This will go along with developments of partnerships for gender equality and empowerment of women in rural areas.”
Colombian coffee is renowned worldwide for its individual taste and quality. Its unique properties have been given protected designation of origin status by the European Union. The smallholders in the Jardin area produce very good quality Arabica coffee from their farms, each of which is less than five hectares. With 4C, consumers know that one of their favorite coffees will benefit small growers and the environment. De Los Andes is committed to expanding the market for 4C coffee and spreading its messages of ethical and responsible production to the four corners of the world.
About the De Los Andes Cooperative
The De Los Andes Cooperative is the result of the combined efforts of more than 3,600 members, who work every day to generate a better future and achieve sustainable development in the field. On 1200ha of farm land, a subset of more than 400 members are producing 4C compliant coffee with an annual production capacity of 2200 metric tons. Their mission is to actively participate in the sustainable development of the coffee growers, their family and the region. The Cooperative is steadily growing with new associates continuously trained in the principles of working in a cooperative.
A path to a sustainable coffee community in Vietnam
Since joining the 4C program in 2010, major Vietnamese coffee exporter Simexco Dak Lak Ltd (SMC) worked with over 4500 farmers to improve agricultural and social practices and create a sustainable coffee community in Dak Lak Province, Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
Simexco Dak Lak Ltd (SMC) Coffee Exporter
Since joining the 4C program in 2010, major Vietnamese coffee exporter Simexco Dak Lak Ltd (SMC) has involved 4605 farmers first in the 4C verification and then, starting from 2018, the certification system. The participating farms, which were selected for the improvement of agricultural and fair trade practices and to create a sustainable coffee community, are located in SMC’s main sourcing areas: the communes of Eakao, Buon Trap, Eatan, Eatoh, DlieYang, Ea Hiao, Eadrong in Dak Lak Province, Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
Founded in 1993, Simexco Dak Lak Ltd (SMC) has built a dynamic purchasing network directly from the farm gates and plantations and invested in modern coffee processing factories and staff capacity building. Implementation of the sustainability criteria towards more responsible coffee production set by the 4C Code of Conduct contributed to the improved production methods and better farmer livelihoods.
SMC’s Sustainable Team highlights that “since joining 4C, SMC has seen positive impacts on farmers’ lives with regards to economic, social, and environmental aspects”. They are optimistic about future development, recalling the progress achieved so far: “the general awareness of farmers has greatly improved. Today farmers are confident about applying fertilizers according to the usage criteria and handling pesticide bottles and containers properly to prevent harming the environment. They have successfully applied good agricultural practices on their coffee farms and already experience multiple advantages of sustainable farming.”
Coffee farmers in SMC’s main sourcing areas have to water their crops four to five times per season. According to the original irrigation method, each turn used about 600 liters of water per tree, not only wasting this valuable natural resource but also requiring significant human effort. With the help of a water meter, farmers are now able to measure the amount of water just enough for each irrigation session, which results in water savings of about 30% compared to the previous irrigation method. Besides, farmers can apply fertilizer through the irrigation system to save time and labor, to reduce farming costs and fertilize regardless of the weather. New water storage ponds have also helped farmers to alleviate the problem of irrigation during the dry season and contributed to improved farmers’ livelihoods by offering opportunities for fish and seafood farming.
In the past, men mainly managed household finances and participated in training sessions. However, within the framework of the 4C program, farmers started participating in trainings on gender equality and female empowerment. Women now work on the farm together with their husbands. They have appropriate financial management plans, directly participate in trainings with the rate up to 50%, have additional access to technologies, and are able to further self-learning and sharing from each other. Women actively voice their opinions and raise issues for discussion together. Trainings have also increased men’s ability to take responsibility for childcare, housework and household management.
Improving the environment and economy
The farming environment has also been significantly improved with balancing the microclimate in the garden through the intercropping of coffee and other crops, resulting in improved farmer income through years of participating in the sustainable coffee production program. The increased environmental and social consciousness of farmers participating in the 4C program also has a positive spillover effect, affecting non-program farmers and contributing to their motivation to engage in the more sustainable production of coffee as well.
“4C is proud to support Vietnamese farmers and delighted to see how Simexco Dak Lak is driving sustainability in coffee production,” says Viet Ha Nguyen, Sustainability Manager in Asia and Oceania, 4C Services GmbH.
Simexco Dak Lak Ltd, a state-owned company founded in 1993, is recognized as one of the leading coffee exporters of Vietnam, the largest Robusta producing country in the world. Annual exports of Simexco Daklak range from 1,3 to 2 million bags (60 kg) of coffee, representing 8% of coffee production in Vietnam. More information under www.simexcodl.com.vn/.