An oversupply of coffee was one of the catalysts of the world coffee crisis in the 1990s, and most of it came from Vietnam. Vietnam increased production 1100% that decade, assisted by development agencies and large multinational coffee roasters. Nearly all the coffee grown in this country is robusta (Coffea canephora), generally low quality beans historically used as filler in blends or in cheap coffee.
The planting of hundreds of thousands of hectares of robusta coffee in the 1990s alone, with its associated destruction of forest, caused significant environmental problems. The Buon Ma Thuot region Vietnam’s Central Highlands was at the center of the coffee boom, and it is also the focus of Rainforest Alliance’s (RA) efforts in promoting sustainable coffee production in the country (PDF).
RA began holding workshops in Vietnam several years ago, and two large coffee export companies (Dakman Vietnam, part of Volcafe; and ECOM Group) were especially responsive. These companies buy coffee from farmers who typically grow coffee on small farms less than 2 ha (5 ac) in size. By the end of 2008, over 600 farms (1000 ha) were RA certified. Now over 1000 farms are certified, covering 1600 ha (nearly 4000 ac). This is still a very small percentage of the area in coffee production, but encouraging as this is generally commodity coffee used by multinational roasters (I believe Kraft is a major purchaser).
Robusta coffee is typically grown in the sun, so the RA certification does not mean the coffee is shade grown. Instead, the certification emphasizes reduced agrochemical use, better waste management, and water conservation. Environmental and wildlife education efforts are also increasing.
Robusta coffee farm in Vietnam’s Central Highlands by amasc under a Creative Commons license.