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Construction engineer pours efforts into organic coffee

Demand for high quality agricultural products is increasing and many consumers are looking for organic options.

Le Van Vuong (second, left) took a picture with foreigners who came to learn about organic coffee. — Photo

Engineer Le Van Vuong, from the central highlands province of Dak Lak – Vietnam's largest cultivation area – has long been searching for a project to help him create his own coffee brand for his hometown.

Vuong spent a lot of time in the coffee fields, trying to convince farmers in Ea Kao Commune, Buon Ma Thuot City, to change coffee cultivation methods from traditional to advanced and organic practices.

Vuong said after graduating from Transport College 3 in HCM City, he worked as a construction engineer on bridges and roads.

After failing in his first project in 2011, he again sought a new business.

"Many people in Sai Gon have the habit of drinking coffee every morning, or meeting friends and partners. I myself grew up in the Buon Ma Thuot, a city of coffee, so I wanted to find an opportunity on this land," he told VNExpress online newspaper.

In early 2012, Vuong worked as a salesman for two local coffee companies. After a while, he founded Vuong Thanh Cong Company.

Vietnam's coffee market is dominated by a number of large domestic and foreign companies.

After doing research, Vuong realised that he needed to have practical experience to be able to enter the coffee market with his own brand.

He went to many famous growing areas, including Lam Dong, the leading province in hi-tech agriculture of the country, to gain more experience.

During this time, he found that consumers tended to prefer clean and healthy products.

He decided to start his business with organic coffee.

Organic farming requires uncontaminated agricultural land clearly separated from normal land, the non-use of pesticides and chemicals and record-keeping to keep clear track of product flows, he said.

"The ethnic groups of Bana and E De people cultivated whatever they wanted or what was familiar, without following market demand, resulting in low efficiency. Their products could not meet requirements for export. This was also the biggest obstacle when I started building a brand," the engineer said.

Vuong successfully persuaded the first household to plant 1.4ha of organic coffee on a pilot project in Cao Thanh Village, Ea Kao Commune.

"It is not easy to convince farmers to switch to new cultivation methods, because it requires more care and more complexity compared to traditional planting. They also doubt its productivity," said Vuong.

In the first year, he worked with the growers to improve the soil with biological products.

Avoiding pesticides, organic coffee plants need microbial fertiliser to ensure nutrients.

Vuong instructed farmers to use manure and compost made from coffee husks, leaves and other plants.

He also worked with a company which provides compost made from fish to add more nutrients to coffee trees in each stage of growth.

Fertilising organic coffee requires many steps and the right time of day, causing difficulties for farmers in changing their habits.

"Watering should be done at around 6-8am, or 4-6pm, while in the past, they often worked from 7 to 11am and 1-5pm. It took us months to guide people to change their cultivation methods," he said.

Their hard work, perseverance and dedication paid off in the first crop. The yield was equivalent to that of inorganic coffee.

Some people find that coffee plants grow better than traditional planting.

The price of organic coffee beans was also higher than coffee grown by old methods.

Six more households took part in his project, with 10ha of coffee plants, adding that his company collected eight tonnes of coffee in 2019.

To find output for his product, the young director participated in many organic agricultural events and exhibitions, promoted products online and expanded distribution through other companies.

"The company's products are currently sold in more than 50 provinces and cities, but the quantity is still small. Recently, a company from Germany offered to buy the company's products, but we have not met the order," he said.

"I want to cooperate with other companies to develop organic coffee for export," Vuong said.

This year, the company will support processing machines for farmers, expand the farming area, focus on improving production, and research new products such as tea and wine made from organic coffee.

The company's business remains stable during the COVID-19 pandemic because the number of online customers increased.

This is also a sales channel that he will push ahead to bring his company's products closer to the international market, Vuong said.  VNS

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