QUANG TRI — Quang Tri is one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam. Straddling the D.M.Z. that cut Vietnam in half during the American War, the province was pounded by one of the heaviest bombardments in history, and 80 percent of its soil was poisoned with landmines.

Up in the highland district of Huong Hoa, which witnessed some of the deadliest days of the war during the battle of Khe Sanh, hundreds of farmers are joining forces to produce premium arabica beans, a surprisingly rare move in a country widely seen as a coffee giant.

Inside the world's second biggest robusta producer, arabica can only be found in the northern and central highlands due to the tough requirements in terms of altitude, soil and temperature required to cultivate the variety.

Unskilled and fragmented labor are major hurdles to growing coffee that meets international requirements. At the same time, shifting cultivation can also be a problem in Vietnam's rural areas, as it takes an average of three years to harvest coffee, which can prompt poor farmers to abandon it for other short-term alternatives. 

It might take years to see more radical transformations to the lives of farmers in Huong Hoa, as most still struggle to make ends meet growing arabica in a robusta-dominated country.

Quang Tri, November 2017. 

Project made possible with the support from the Mekong Institute (Thailand). 





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Nguyen Nhat An, team leader at the Mekong Institute, talking to a coffee worker on an arabica plantation in Huong Phung Commune, Quang Tri. The Mekong Institute offers capacity training for farmers to help them understand more about the coffee market and growing beans that reach the 4C standard.


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"I earn VND4 mln/month ($176) harvesting coffee cherries. But normally, I'm a farmer in the plains," said Nguyen Thi Lien, 59.

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"In 2015 we suffered major losses. The coffee cherries were threatened by pests and there were a lot of droughts, so productivity was low and the coffee price fluctuated," said Tran Ngoc Vu, 42, a coffee plantation owner.


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A Bru-Van Kieu woman working in an arabica coffee plantation. 


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Van Kieu families in Hung Hoa, Quang Tri. 


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Arabica farmers in Hung Hoa gather for a meeting with representatives of the Mekong Institute.  

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Coffee processing factory in Hung Hoa, Quang Tri. 

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Most farmers still struggle to make ends meet growing arabica in a robusta-dominated country.




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