Phú made changes to the way he farms his Robusta, and now his beans are among the best in Việt Nam. We use them in our Lacàph Espresso & Phin blends. Thanks to the courage of his convictions, Phú now grows some of the best Robusta in the whole of Việt Nam. It wasn’t all smooth sailing but with hard work and commitment, he eventually achieved his dreams.
Thanks to the courage of his convictions, Phú now grows some of the best Robusta in the whole of Việt Nam
Phú’s story begins as a young child in the mid-1990s when his father decided to move the family to the Central Highlands region of Đăk Nông Province. At the time, the government’s Đổi Mới reforms were supporting coffee farmers, and encouraged by the rising price of coffee beans they left the family home in the North and moved to start a new life as part of the country’s emerging coffee industry.
Whilst growing up on his family’s coffee plantation Phú dreamed of making an impact on the lives of others and set his heart on becoming a teacher. But while his family prospered, the income from the coffee they grew was not enough to pay for his studies, so eventually, he joined his father working on the family farm. Little did he know that in the years that followed his dream would come true, but in a very different way than he imagined as a child.
Phú was a handsome and hardworking young man, and attracted the attention of a local lady. When they married in 2010 his father gave him a coffee garden as a wedding gift. Phú knew from experience that life as a coffee farmer wasn’t easy, but he was determined to provide a secure and stable future for his young family which wasn’t dependent on the fluctuating prices of coffee beans.
There wasn’t space on his farm to plant more coffee trees, and he couldn’t afford to buy another plantation, so he began looking for ways to increase the value of the beans he was already growing.
Phú knew Việt Nam was among the world’s largest exporters of Robusta, but he also realized that these beans were considered an inferior-grade commodity product, used only for instant coffee, and tending to fetch a low price. Changing his trees to Arabica that sold for higher prices wasn't possible, so he decided his best option was to improve the quality of his Robusta.
The first change Phú made to his farm was planting shadow trees which provided shade for his coffee shrubs. The new trees also helped to stabilize water levels on the farm, and improved the quality of his farm’s soil. This was a great help as it meant he didn’t need to spend so much on fertilizers. He also decided to reduce the number of chemical fertilizers he used on his farm, and switched to eco-friendly alternatives that he was able to by cheaply and locally.
After a while, Phú noticed there were many more birds, bees and bats visiting his plantation which helped with the pollination of his coffee plants. He took advantage of this, and started to intercrop by planting durian, pomelo and cashew among his coffee shrubs. With a greater variety of crops, he was able to increase his income when coffee yields were poor or the market price was low.
At first, other local farmers were puzzled and unsupportive of the changes Phú was making. They had been farming coffee the same way for generations and didn’t see a reason to change. But when traders bought their green beans, some years the prices were high, others they were low, and the farmers were never able to plan ahead or increase their production.
When Phú’s first batch of new beans sold for much more than theirs, they began to pay attention to what he was doing, and soon the quality of their beans started to increase too.
In the years since Phú was given his farm, he has worked hard to improve the quality of his coffee, researching best practices, and applying what he has learned. But more than that, he has shared his ideas with neighboring farmers, helping them to improve the quality of their beans too. As incomes have increased, this has helped develop the infrastructure of his local community and open up opportunities for many.
Not only has he achieved his childhood dream of changing the lives of others, but he has also helped change the perceptions of Vietnamese Robusta that is now valued for its distinct characteristics and rich flavors.