Mekong Coffee Growers Struggle With Drought And A Warming Climate gives you a look at the consequences climate change brings to coffee growers. In the villages on the outskirts of Buon Ma Thuot city, Vietnamese farmers are waiting for monsoon in April and May as an appointment every year.
Bel Eban, a farmer in Krong village, pointed to a few green beans lying in the palm of his hand: “The coffee looks ripe, but it’s crunchy and crunchy because it’s not raining enough.”
He said there were only three 30-minute downpours this spring and natural conditions were not conducive to coffee plant growth. Coffee plants need water every 15 to 20 days. But now, many trees have died, production has decreased sharply, and farmers grow coffee, so the damage is not minor.
Buon Ma Thuot is the largest city in Vietnam’s coffee plateau kingdom. 95% of coffee production is produced in this region, making Vietnam the world’s second-largest coffee exporter after Brazil.
Not far from Buon Ma Thuot, the Srepok River flows from the central highlands into northeastern Cambodia from a major tributary of the Mekong. On a journey through six Asian countries, the Mekong River provides livelihoods for nearly 60 million people.
However, severe droughts in the lower Mekong region, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and southwestern China, have pushed the river’s water levels to their lowest levels in a century. As temperatures rise, farmers will often suffer from extreme phenomena like this. And in particular, it is how the people here grow coffee, and intensive farming can lead to soil depletion and the destruction of their forest resources.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND DEPLETION OF WATER RESOURCES
“In the past, the rain came early and regularly. The weather is also much easier to predict,” Eban said. But in the last few years, the weather has been particularly harsh. In recent years, drought has been a constant burden for Vietnam’s coffee-growing provinces. In 2016, it caused a state of emergency in the central and southern regions of the country.
The cultivation of coffee can exacerbate the problem of water scarcity. In 2018, Vietnam planted coffee on 688,400 hectares of land, reaching a yield of more than 1.6 million tons. With so many plantations in the central highlands, unpredictable weather, and limited rainfall, ponds, lakes, and groundwater have dried up. Local farmers have to dig deeper and deeper wells to maintain basic irrigation levels.
Associate Professor Dr. Le Anh Tuan of Can Tho University, a leading expert on climate change in the Mekong Delta, said recent droughts in the region showed signs of being affected by climate change.
“Droughts have been occurring more frequently than in the past, and there are also extreme forms occurring in the region.”
“Across the lower Mekong basin, temperatures have risen from 0.5 to 1.5 ºC over the past 50 years and are continuing to rise,” according to WWF. The occurrence of monsoons is also not regular, and this trend is very likely to turn even more unpredictable in the coming decades as the rate of climate change increases” – Dr. Le Anh Tuan explained.
Land sources, such as deforestation and desertification, also contribute to extreme weather events. A recent report by an intergovernmental scientific body convened by the United Nations suggests that such changes could increase the intensity and duration of intense temperature intervals and rainfall even in areas far apart.
Because plants return water to the atmosphere with evaporation and evaporation – a process known as “evapotranspiration” – “changes in forest mantle directly affect the area’s surface temperature.” Increasing steam drainage can lead to colder days during the growing season and reduce the temperature amplitude. As a result, the farmer’s nightmare lasted forever and got worse and worse.
UPSTREAM OF THE MEKONG
Paddling more than a thousand kilometers on the Mekong River from Buon Ma Thuot, the coffee farmers of Yunnan province also felt the heat. In this stretch of the river, Li Yemei is growing coffee near the village of Dakaihe.
Pointing to the dried leaves of the crop, she said this year’s crop would suffer greatly. “Many coffee trees have died due to drought. Coffee doesn’t bloom, and coffee doesn’t grow.”
Dakaihe is a coffee-growing village near Pu’er, a world-famous landmark for its black tea. Pu’er also produces half of Yunnan’s coffee production, thus accounting for up to 95% of China’s coffee production.
Coffee has been grown in Yunnan for more than a century, but Nestle began trading in the province on a microscopic scale in the 1980s. High-profit margins in the 1980s and 1990s attracted many tea farmers to switch to coffee cultivation, and the industry quickly expanded. But from 2009 to 2013, drought struck Yunnan every winter, causing water shortages and making farmland barren.
“Yunnan province is increasingly suffering from many powerful natural symbols. Climate change seriously affects people’s socio-economic development and habitat,” Ding Yihui, special adviser on climate change at china’s Meteorological Administration, told provincial officials.
That went as predicted in 2011 when a severe cold snap affected four million people and caused 1.5 billion yuan ($225 million) in damage. Ding added that climate change would undermine nature’s ability to regulate and recover and prolong drought in Yunnan.
Juliet Lu, a member of the Land Laboratory at the UC Berkeley Institute of Environmental Sciences, said that even a short-term drought could derail the whole year’s crop for sensitive plants like coffee.
According to the Yunnan Coffee Industry Association, this year’s drought has affected more than 2,000 hectares of coffee in Yunnan, estimating production will decrease by 5-10% compared to previous years.
According to Reuters, coffee production in Vietnam is expected to decline sharply due to water scarcity. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) says climate change will leave about half of the world’s coffee-producing land unsuitable for development by 2050.
Annegret Brauss, project manager at the International Trade Centre in Geneva, where she works on climate restoration of international value chains in Africa, said:
“Various studies indicate that the size of coffee-producing regions will decline significantly over the next 20-30 years because of climate change. The industry is facing challenges from extreme weather, such as disruptions to transport routes due to heavy rain or challenges in the coffee drying process due to increasingly unpredictable weather.”
IS THE ENVIRONMENTAL COST EQUAL TO THE PROFITABILITY OF COFFEE?
Below the forest canopy, where high-quality soil provides an excellent nourishing environment. Shade trees resist soil erosion, maintain soil health and retain water, and provide habitat for wildlife.
Farmers who plant trees by taking advantage of the sun have cut down trees to increase yields and growth rates. Since the method of growing coffee in the sun was introduced in the 1970s, 60% of the world’s coffee land has been stripped of the shade of trees. Almost all coffee produced in Vietnam and China is grown in direct sunlight and sold as coarse seeds for instant coffee, which requires more quantity than quality.
The $100 billion global coffee industry is on the rise. But the billion-dollar industry, accumulated from the world’s second-most traded commodities in the world, doesn’t share the benefits with farmers. Farmers often cannot afford to plant trees under the shade because it offers lower yields.
The price of coffee is also raised very high compared to the cost of planting, the level farmers receive back. They are traded as a commodity; the price of coffee changes every minute at the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), a major commodity trading center based in New York City.
Prices are determined by supply, demand, and speculation. Prices can vary slightly depending on factors such as brand reputation and output. Still, in general, “the commercial coffee market is the buyer market,” according to Tim Heinze, managing director of Yunnan Coffee Trader.
He was earning a bit of coffee from coffee like Eban farmers in Buon Ma Thuot. Last year, the revenue from his 2.6-hectare coffee plantation was 110 million Vietnamese dongs ($4,740). Yunnan farmer Li Yemei said most of the income from coffee in the past four years was not much. To make a living, her husband had to find temporary work on construction sites in the town.
Low prices cause farmers to grow coffee in the sun, thereby putting pressure on forest resources. Peter Baker, a climate expert at CAB International, a non-profit organization aimed at tackling agriculture and environmental problems, estimates that global coffee production increases by about 2% each year and uses an additional 100,000 hectares of land (nearly two-thirds of London’s area). In most countries where coffee production is expanding rapidly, deforestation is the easiest way to create new coffee lands.
In Vietnam, tens of thousands of miles of forest land have been cut down since the 1970s, some to make way for sunshine to grow coffee, tea, and rubber. Between 1986 and 2016, coffee production increased nearly 100-fold. Much of the coffee land is now severely depleted because chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides increase productivity.
There is a direct relationship between the loss of trees, as a natural barrier, and pests. When farmers remove them, they must start using chemical insecticides. Moreover, rain falls directly to the ground, washes away nutrients, and requires the use of more fertilizer, creating a vicious circle with no way out.
According to the IPCC’s land use report, land degradation contributes to climate change, putting more significant pressure on agricultural activities. When the soil is degraded, it reduces its ability to absorb carbon and exacerbates climate change. Currently, agriculture, forestry, and other land use generate 23% of greenhouse gas emissions. And processes in natural soils – such as soil formation, nutrient cycles, and water cycles – absorb about a third of the greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels and industrial processes.
Coffee farmer Nie from The Commune recalls his childhood when there were still dense forests and wild animals running in the nearby mountains:
“But now, as you can see, there are only hills.” The above is an article about the difficulties coffee growers face; they have ways to overcome through the experience of first-hand experiences they encounter.