Our grandparents often say, "An inch of soil is an inch of gold."
When it comes to agriculture, "soil" is deemed more precious than gold as it is the very foundation on which farmers build a prosperous and fulfilling life for their loved ones.
The plants thrive on the nourishing soil, yielding delectable fruits for the farmers, who delight in the bountiful harvest with joyous laughter.
It reduces the burden of farmers regarding the worries of life: housing, children, etc.
"The land is very precious" because as long as the land remains, there is still hope for the lives of farmers.
And in the Central Highlands, the land is even more precious.
The "bazan red soil" where coffee farms spread across thousands of hectares, helping farmers enhance their economy.
However, now farmers are struggling on their land. You may have heard stories about crop failure, low coffee prices.
But it's not just about not being able to repay debts with coffee production, or even losing the land. I was also shocked by the stories I'm about to tell you. Even though they want to, farmers cannot sustain their lives by growing coffee on this land in the Central Highlands.
The story takes place when I was still working on a coffee farm in Lam Dong province, searching for coffee fields to buy from local farmers to prepare for production plans on the farm. I was very excited and enthusiastic.
To be honest, this was my first time buying coffee and I was able to buy it at a higher price than the market price, so I was very happy that I could pay the farmers a higher price, which was deserving of their hard work in caring for and nurturing the coffee trees.
While driving, my eyes were focused on a coffee field on the hill, where the beautiful coffee rows looked like terraced fields. I turned right and went straight up, and the more I went up, the more I saw the ripe red coffee branches. And I thought to myself, "here it is".
I called out loudly, "Is anyone here?" because I was in the coffee field and couldn't see anyone. So I had to call out loudly to find each other. Then I heard a voice reply, "Hey, who's there?"
"Excuse me, I see your family's coffee plantation is very beautiful, with healthy trees and ripe coffee cherries. So, I would like to ask if I could buy some coffee from you."
The lady responded: "Buy? How much are you willing to pay?"
I asked her back: "What is the pricethat you sell to the traders?"
She replied: "Today, they are buying for 14,500 VND per kilogram."
Then, I politely told her: "I would like to buy from you at a price range of 17,000 to 20,000 VND per kilogram, depending on the rate of ripe fruit."
The lady said to me: "I can not sell it to you. Someone else has already bought it."
I was a bit surprised because, in my opinion, if someone else could pay a higher price, they should sell it to them. So, I asked her again: "Why won't you sell it to me?"
She replied: "I have already received an advance payment from someone else. Now, I have to harvest the coffee to repay the debt."
I then said: " If you sell me the coffee at a higher price, you would still receive more money to pay off your debt, right?"
And then she began to tell me the story behind why she had to sell coffee at such a low price:
In recent years, the money from selling coffee has not been enough for her to pay for fertilizer and the cost of caring for the coffee trees, so she just kept losing money. If she wants to continue growing coffee, she has to borrow money from traders in advance, so that she can have enough money for fertilizer, labor, etc. But at the end of the year, she has to repay the debt with coffee instead of money. So, when the harvest season comes, the traders will take her coffee to deduct the debt.
The traders, they really force the price down on her. To maximize the profit margin when they sell to coffee companies, they don't care much about the unripe cherries, coffee quality. So, she has to harvest both green and ripe beans, and now she hears that the price of coffee depends on the proportion of ripe cherries from me, she really wants to sell to me, but doesn't know how.
The price that traders buy coffee from her is very low (always lower than the company's offer from 2,000-4,000 VND/kg). Looking at the small amount of 2,000-4,000 VND/kg, but with a coffee farm of about 2 hectares, the average annual output of coffee is 20-25 tons (for Arabica coffee), she has already lost from 40 to nearly 100 million VND.
I also confided in her: "Why do you have to repay in coffee, if I borrow money, I can also repay in money.'"
She told me: "Because of the interest, dear. If you repay in money from the beginning, the interest will be higher. So, I chose to repay with coffee. I never thought that when it came to coffee buying time, they would find many reasons to force the price down on me. Not just me, many other farmers are facing a similar problem."
The vicious cycle occurs when the money from selling coffee in this crop is not enough to repay the debt and it continues to drag on to the next crop. Thus, the story of growing coffee just keeps happening: "Not enough to repay the debt, borrow more money, add interest." It makes her and other farmers go into the path of "the more you take care of the farm, the more you owe."
And the ending couldn't be sadder: Selling land to repay the debt or converting crops... all leads to the loss of coffee farming ground.
So the question is, what is the solution to help farmers ensure their livelihoods from coffee cultivation?
The solution is to enhance the economic value and sustainability of coffee production, so that farmers can ensure their basic needs before considering prosperity and wealth.
So where do the economic value and sustainability of coffee cultivation come from?
The answer is: The specialty coffee production model
The specialty coffee model has many benefits for farmers:
It enhances economic value by changing the harvesting method:
From picking both ripe and unripe cherries to focusing on picking only 100% ripe cherries. This can increase farmers' income by 30-70%.
For example, with a 2-hectare coffee farm, the yield for one season is 20-25 tons. With the traditional harvesting method of picking both green and ripe cherries, the selling price fluctuates from 13,000 to 16,000 VND per kilogram. However, by using the selective harvesting method of 100% ripe cherries, the selling price can increase to 18,000-25,000 VND per kilogram. This helps farmers increase their income from 100 to about 200 million VND per 2 hectares, depending on the proportion of ripe cherries harvested.
When implementing the specialty coffee model, the aim is to improve the quality of the product and protect the environment, thus creating sustainability in cultivation. The cultivation practices gradually shift towards organic agriculture, reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and increasing the use of organic fertilizers. The use of herbicides is replaced by grass cutting and moisture retention in the soil. The goal is to ensure "Clean" coffee that brings the best health benefits to consumers.
This model requires farmers to carry out processes for caring for plants, processing, and scoring green beans according to the CQI standard (World Coffee Quality Institute).
However, the specialty coffee model will not be successful if only the efforts of farmers are involved, but also the efforts of a value chain to convey the value of those coffee beans to consumers.
iO Coffee is also striving and dedicating to transmitting specialty coffee beans in this value chain because iO Coffee understands the value of specialty coffee beans, the effort to create each precious coffee bean.
Above all, iO Coffee loves Vietnamese coffee, always aiming to create a positive and exciting experience from specialty coffee, from coffee farmers to the final consumers in the coffee value chain.
iO Coffee becomes a link between farmers and customers in the role of a roaster to transform green coffee beans into roasted coffee beans with unique flavor and color, increasing the experience of specialty coffee for customers.
iO Coffee ensures integrity and ethics in its coffee-making process by being able to trace the origin of the coffee you are drinking, which farm it comes from and how it was processed.
And iO Coffee hopes that you will experience specialty coffee (Fine Robusta). Enjoy a cup of coffee to feel the process of creating the coffee bean you are drinking through taste, smell, hearing, and touch.