Summary of the project

Overall, the aim of the project was achieved, the barriers to a more sustainable Robusta coffee industry in the Central Highlands of Vietnam were identified. The literature study and stakeholder interviews provided information on the priority issues and how they were ranked in order of priority by the stakeholders of the area. According to available literature pests and diseases is high priority threats to the sector, which varied from the interviews, which ranked pests and diseases as the threat of the lowest priority. Variances were viewed in the rankings provided between the varying stakeholder groups and the companies which already had ongoing projects which were already overcoming the particular threat. The solutions provided by the questionnaire participants highlighted that solutions could be of benefit to multiple threats, with only four of the solutions provided being specific to one threat. The solutions of ‘intercropping’ and ‘training’ were the solution which would most benefit all five threats. Other solutions mentioned included the use of new varieties, new/improved drying methods, and better water management. There were barriers to most solutions, including financial barriers and lack of incentive for farmers to make the necessary changes to increase the sector’s sustainability. Throughout the study, a number of information gaps were identified, for both coffee farmers and organisations working in the coffee sector. Such gaps included lack of soil analysis of the coffee growing area, and lack of weather and climate information. Gaps were also identified between the perspectives of different stakeholder groups, e.g. differences were often found between the opinions of the private and public sector, predominantly because of the nature of their work, i.e. the private sector focuses more on working alongside the coffee farmers, while public sector institutes, such as WASI, focus more on research. The use of a questionnaire proved to be highly beneficial as the information provided in available literature is often outdated or does not always emphasis the primary problems being experienced within the Central Highlands. Such a study would be useful to organisations wishing to gain a greater understanding of the main issues of the area, particularly integrating the perspectives of both private- and public-sector stakeholders. It is important to identify threats and potential solutions for an area, but it is also important to have a full understanding of the potential barriers to improving the sustainability of the Robusta coffee sector. By understanding existing objections to solutions, the potential success or failure of a solution can be better predicted and alterations to the plan be made to improve its uptake and potential for impact.


To each potential solution, there is almost always a barrier to its implementation. Such barriers include;

  • Finance
    • Many solutions require a financial investment for their implementation. Proposed solutions such as drip irrigation is extremely costly to implement, which would require private sector involvement, which is not always possible.
  • Lack of incentive
    • Some solutions require extra labour that may not provide an immediate improvement to yields or earnings which will do little to encourage farmers to change their agricultural practices.
  • Lack of monitoring
    • When implementing new agricultural practices, an area needs to be monitored in order to ensure the practices are being performed correctly if at all. The Central Highlands contains a high amount of agricultural land used for Robusta growth which would require a high volume of people to monitor solutions’ progress, which is not possible at this time.
  • Lack of soil analysis
    • A problem for the area is the wrong types and amounts of fertilisers being applied to the soils. The lack of soil analysis means the most any expert can do is make an educated estimation as to what the correct fertilisers to use per area are.
  • Missing resources/information
    • For both farmers and organisations working in the Central Highlands, there are many types of information or resources that are not currently available which will hinder the progress of increasing the sustainability of the coffee sector. As of yet, there is very little accurate weather forecasting systems, in both the short- and long-term, in place which could help those working in the area make adaptations to potential climatic changes.



Throughout the questionnaires, the participants were asked to provide potential solutions to the threats of the area. It was most often the case that the proposed solutions would be of benefit to combating more than one threat. For example, intercropping and training, were solutions proposed for all 5 threats. For some ongoing projects in the area, companies have these 2 solutions as high priority to be implemented within the projects. Other proposed solutions included;

  • Water management systems
  • Fertiliser management
  • New Robusta coffee varieties
  • New/improved policies
  • New/improved drying methods
  • Farmer cooperatives


Throughout this project, gaps in relation to the Robusta coffee sector were identified.

Much of the literature available on the Robusta sector in the Central Highlands is outdated. Studies performed by, e.g. Marsh, 2007 (see reference list) provides an in-depth insight to many aspects of the Robusta sector, from irrigation to ethnic minorities. Unfortunately, as this publication was released in 2007, it is very possible for the information to be wrong, due to changes that may have occurred over the next 10 year period. Throughout this project, when comparing the information from literature and the information gathered throughout the questionnaire process, there were variances in regards to priority of certain issues e.g. pests & diseases, or to the amount of land that is used for Robusta coffee growth. In this case, due to the expertise of the questionnaire participants and the more recent time in which the questionnaires were performed, it is most likely that the information gathered by the questionnaires will be most accurate to the current state of the coffee sector.

Gaps of opinion were also found throughout this project. Varying stakeholder types have different priorities in terms of coffee. This will influence their answers in regards to certain threats. The ranking of the threats shows the overall average of the rankings given by the questionnaires, but it does not show the variances per stakeholder group. for example, despite pests & diseases receiving the overall lowest ranking, it still received high rankings by the Roaster group.

Another cause for there to be a gap in the rankings provided by the questionnaires is ongoing projects in the area. Many of the questionnaire participants are currently working on projects within the Central Highlands addressing the 5 threats of this project. The success/failure of the ongoing projects influenced the answers provided during the questionnaire.


Barrier rankings

The participants of the questionnaire gave each threat a ranking according to their priority on a scale of 0-5. After gathering the results of the questionnaires, the 5 barriers were placed in the order of based on the rankings provided by the questionnaire participants;

  1. Weather/post-harvest
  2. Irrigation
  3. Coffee quality
  4. Fertilisers
  5. Pests & diseases

By gaining the order of priority of each threat, it is possible to gain an understanding on which threats should be addressed first and what kind of projects will be undertaken in the area.


In order to gain more information of the coffee sector, a questionnaire was made to ask stakeholders of the area, over a 3 week period. The stakeholders were predominantly from the private sector, as the private sector works closest with the local farmers. The stakeholder groups that partook in the questionnaire were;

  • Roasters
  • Traders
  • Coffee platforms
  • Input suppliers
  • Government and research institutes

Barriers to sustainability

The Robusta coffee sector in the Central Highlands is predominantly unsustainable. Monocropping is the main system being used in the Central Highlands, highly affecting the diversity of the area. Other agricultural practices further hinder the sustainability of the area. For this project, the 5 main barriers to sustainability focused upon are;

  • Coffee quality,
  • Pests and diseases
  • Irrigation
  • Fertilisers
  • Weather/post-harvest.

The aim of this project is to gain an understanding on the priority of these issues and to uncover potential solutions to such problems in the sector.

Robusta coffee

Vietnam is the 2nd largest exporter of Robusta coffee in the world. Robusta coffee is mostly considered as a lower quality coffee, in comparison to Arabica. This is due to Robusta having a harsh flavour in comparison to the delicate flavours of Arabica, which has caused Robusta’s export price to be half that of Arabica. Although, Robusta still remains popular with roasters due to its caffeine content being higher than that of Arabica, it is used for cheaper blends, instant coffees, and is often mixed in small quantities with Arabica. Robusta coffee is a lot easier grown that Arabica, it requires a less specific temperature range for growth than Arabica, as well as being more resilient to external stresses. Almost 600,000 ha in the Central Highlands is dedicated to coffee crops, 95% of which is Robusta coffee. Coffee in the Central Highlands is predominantly grown in a monocropping system.

A bitter cup: climate change profile of global production of Arabica and Robusta coffee

A bitter cup

Coffee has proven to be highly sensitive to climate change. Because coffee plantations have a lifespan of about thirty years, the likely effects of future climates are already a
concern. Forward-looking research on adaptation is therefore in high demand across the entire
supply chain. In this paper we seek to project current and future climate suitability for coffee
production (
Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora) on a global scale. We used machine
learning algorithms to derive functions of climatic suitability from a database of georeferenced production locations. Use of several parameter combinations enhances the robustness of our analysis. The resulting multi-model ensemble suggests that higher temperatures
may reduce yields of
C. arabica, while C. canephora could suffer from increasing variability
of intra-seasonal temperatures. Climate change will reduce the global area suitable for coffee
by about 50 % across emission scenarios. Impacts are highest at low latitudes and low
altitudes. Impacts at higher altitudes and higher latitudes are still negative but less pronounced.
The world
s dominant production regions in Brazil and Vietnam may experience substantial
reductions in area available for coffee. Some regions in East Africa and Asia may become
more suitable, but these are partially in forested areas, which could pose a challenge to
mitigation efforts.

The beginning

On May 3rd, I arrived in beautiful Hanoi at 7 pm. Despite the overcast appearance and the lateness in the evening, it was 31 degrees celsius!! Incomprehensible to anyone from temperate Ireland. A pre-arranged taxi driver picked me up straight off the plane and brought me to a car right outside the main door to bring me to my Air BnB. The road seemed calm to begin with, but as we neared the city the traffic became more hectic. Suddenly there were cars and scooters on all sides, everyone beeping and appeared to be breaking every road law I had ever learned. Luckily my un-phased driver manoeuvred our way through the madness to my beautiful apartment, where as soon as I closed the door, the madness of the city was instantly drowned out by tranquil silence.

After I quickly got my bearings it was time to explore my new surroundings and begin sampling the delicious local food I had been looking forward to. Despite the lateness in hour, the temperature had not even fallen slightly, 9 o clock at night and it was still 31 degrees!! The locals looked at me with amusement, and despite us being in the middle of a large city, many of them smiled and said hello to me, delighted to welcome a new visitor to their lovely city. After a quick stroll (and a life threatening crossing of a road), I found a lovely looking restaurant with a lovely waitress delighted at the opportunity to practice her english. With the help of my lovely waitress I tried a meat noodle soup that was delicious. I had forgotten that they use chop sticks here so I realised if I want to eat here, my chop stick skills are going to have to dramatically improve. After my lovely first sampling of the local cuisine I returned to my apartment for a well needed rest excited for the next day and for my new life in Hanoi to begin.