This is a big year for Vietnamese rice and coffee exports. Vietnam became the biggest coffee exporter, and it may also become the top rice supplier to the world. The country has long been second in rice exports. But this year Vietnam is expected to pass Thailand by about half a million tons.
For the long term, Vietnam is increasing the quality of its rice and looking to expand in the Chinese market. Vietnam became the top coffee exporter this year because of bad weather in Brazil. But some say Vietnamese agricultural policies may not help the country stay on top for long. Le Ngoc Bau is director of Vietnam’s Western Highlands Agro-Forestry Scientific and Technical Institute.
LE NGOC BAU (TRANSLATED): "Firstly, Vietnam’s government has no policy to expand the area for coffee. In August of twenty-twelve, the minister of agriculture made the decision to approve the master plan to develop the coffee industry to the year twenty-twenty, and our vision up to the year twenty-thirty. For this master plan to the year twenty-twenty, the total area of coffee in Vietnam will be reduced to five hundred thousand hectares."
Almost all of the beans are robusta. These have a strong taste and are often used to make espresso and instant coffee. They are higher in caffeine and considered lower in quality than top varieties.
But the chairman of Trung Nguyen, Vietnam’s largest coffee company, wants to improve the image of his country's beans. Dang Le Nguyen Vu says they just need to be marketed better.
DANG LE NGUYEN (TRANSLATED): "We have the quantity and quality of robusta, which is the number one in the world. But we are lacking one thing -- that is the packing industry, display industry and storytelling industry, to make the world understand exactly what the world needs. Vietnam should be a great nation, not only in quantity."
Ma Chuong has been farming coffee beans for more than thirty years. Ma Chuong says a drip irrigation system financed by the company saves water and labor.
MA CHUONG (TRANSLATED): "In the first year before we had this system our productivity was only eight hundred kilograms per hectare. But in the second year after installing this system, productivity went up to fourteen hundred kilograms per hectare. Last year, from our notes from start to end of harvest, productivity was two thousand forty kilograms."
People in Vietnam do not drink a lot of coffee. The French started growing coffee beans in the former colony and influenced the local style of preparation.
John Owens is an American teaching English. He says he has come to enjoy the strong flavor of the local drip brew in Buon Ma Thuot, in Vietnam's coffee-growing heartland.
JOHN OWENS: "I had never heard about it until I came here. I do not think they market it, or they brand it. I think they put it with other coffee."
Trung Nguyen is trying to change that by marketing new coffee products and working with farmers to improve quality and efficiency in production.
And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. I’m Christopher Cruise.
Contributing: Daniel Schearf