Coffee farmers in Viet Nam’s Central Highlands are increasingly applying intercropping to their coffee plantations. This results in more income and a better resilience against climate change.
The Tam Giang cooperative in Dak Lak Province, located in Viet Nam’s Central Highlands, is a local enterprise. The cooperative produces coffee products such as cherries, beans and powder, including UTZ-certified coffee. The cooperative also provides agricultural production services to its farmer members, such as information on improved techniques for crop cultivation, crop varieties, chemical use, and markets.
In Dak Lak Province, local farmers were in the habit of using all their land for coffee production, because that was their main source of income. The risk of this strategy is high: coffee needs a lot of water, especially if the coffee bushes are planted in a monoculture and have no shade trees. Dak Lak has experienced serious water shortages in the last five to seven years, especially because a lot of forest has been illegally cut down, which results in a less reliable water supply for agricultural lands. Some farmers had to dig deeper for groundwater; this has negative impacts on the soil and can worsen the water supply problem. Farmers who could not dig deeper for water often suffered lower yields or even loss of crops. Local farmers realized that these negative impacts were occurring and assumed they should do something, but did not know what to do. They had, for instance, no knowledge of tree species that are resistant to drought, provide shade for crops and give them income.
With the support of Tropenbos Viet Nam, the cooperative promotes intercropping among its members and non-members. Tropenbos Viet Nam also organized multi-stakeholder workshops for cooperatives and local farmers to be updated about agroforestry policies, to reflect on themselves and to learn from other participants. Through training workshops and field study visits, Tropenbos Viet Nam provided farmers with knowledge of the benefits of intercropping timber trees (or fruit trees) with their coffee crops.
As a result of their improved knowledge of agroforestry coffee, local farmers have intercropped multi-purpose trees (or fruit trees). They did this based on their calculation of the income from fruit trees and the micro-climate benefits created by these trees for their coffee. Of the commune’s 1,900 ha of land, intercropping has now been applied to 50 ha.
Planting forests is a time-consuming task that requires a lot of resources. Coffee, on the other hand, yields money quickly. Tropenbos Viet Nam has therefore opted first to improve the understanding of farmers about agroforestry with timber trees, while showing them successful field models. The long-term aim is to stimulate the planting of native trees in coffee plantations by creating the right enabling conditions. This means lobbying the government to improve the existing Payment for Environmental Services mechanism that will pay coffee farmers for (forest) trees planted in their coffee plantations and provide low-interest bank loans for forest planting/restoration initiatives.