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Coffee quality drops off alarmingly

Update: October, 31/2006 - 00:00

Coffee quality drops off alarmingly

(31-10-2006)

A farmer in Gia Lai Province harvests coffee beans. The old method of collecting both ripe and unripe coffee beans has reduced the quality of Vietnamese coffee, leading to its rejection on the international market. — VNA/VNS Photo Sy Huynh

HA NOI — Coffee quality is becoming a hot issue after a Viet Nam Coffee and Cocoa Association (VICOFA) representative revealed a staggering increase in rejected product.

From October 2005 to March 2006, about 88 per cent of the coffee rejected on the world market was from Viet Nam, said Doan Trieu Nhan, deputy chairman of VICOFA, during a meeting organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

This was a 19 per cent increase from the previous six month period, he said.

Ministry experts blame the decline in quality on farmers mixing unripe and ripe beans during harvest. In addition, farmers are not properly drying the beans after harvesting, which reduces the overall quality.

The price for unripe and ripe coffee beans are virtually the same, which discourages farmers from separating the two. In addition, farmers fear a slowdown in harvesting and higher operating costs associated with separating the beans.

Deputy Chairman Nhan admits that harvesting unripe beans reduces coffee exports by 10 to 20 per cent due to the frequent quality rejections.

The biggest loss, however, was the prestige of Vietnamese coffee in international market, Nhan added. Buyers in the US and Europe value Vietnamese coffee’s natural quality, which has led to direct competition with long established markets like Brazil and Indonesia.

Harvesting yields are high even though the total area planted for coffee is a quarter of that used in Brazil. Viet Nam as a result has become one of the world’s largest coffee exporters, a title experts fear may be lost if quality does not improve.

Staying competitive

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Diep Kinh Tan is concerned that the Vietnamese coffee industry ranks second in quality but fifth in export turnover.

When Viet Nam becomes a World Trade Organisation member, the coffee industry will face more stringent regulations on hygiene and quality control, Tan said.

He urged industry leaders to make the necessary adjustments in order to stay competitive in the global market.

The ministry has guided the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) provinces, where more than 90 per cent of the country’s coffee plantations are located, through quality control improvements.

Provincial authorities will teach people new harvesting technology. Each province will set up their own model to harvest and process coffee beans.

The ministry has suggested that coffee earmarked for export be thoroughly examined before being shipped. — VNS

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