Coffee, Pepper or Other Crops in a Context of Water Scarcity: A Story from Cu M’gar District, Dak Lak Province, Central Highland, Vietnam

by Nguyen Phuong Le

20151123_102034I have been in Cu M’gar district, Dak Lak province for doing research funded by MK32 from late November to the early December 2015. It could be said that Central Highland in general and Cu M’gar in particular brought me a very good impression because of its landscape and people.

As introduced by staff in Provincial Department of Agricultural and Rural Development, Cu M’gar is one of districts where coffee is cultivated as a main crop. Together with coffee, farmers grow pepper, rubber, cacao, and other annual crops such as rice, maize, cassava, soybean, etc. In recent years, coffee areas have been reduced due to water shortage as well as pepper replacement. Regarding with water issue in coffee production, in 2014, the district had 524.5ha of coffee which had no harvest because of water scarcity.


Irrigation Management Officers

After talking with Mr. Bien who is responsible for irrigation management at Cu M’gar district, he took as to Cu Sue commune where coffee has been considered as a main livelihood strategy of farmers. Moreover, water shortage is the most severe in Cu M’gar district. According to Mr. Luc, head of Commune People Committee, coffee yield in 2014 was about 30 percent lower than in 2013. As a consequence, many households have changed from coffee to pepper and other crops while some households let their coffee gardens to be died.

Unlike my imagine about the areas of coffee plantation in Central Highland region, in Cu Sue commune, the biggest plantation is almost 2 ha while the smallest one is around 2000 square meters. During the time I stayed at Cu Sue commune, I strongly impressed case of Sut H’Luot village where all 146 households have relied on coffee production. However, according to a farmer, they cannot merely live on coffee production nowadays because of water shortage. I could hear stories of water problem for coffee production from any coffee producer I met in this village.

20151123_101520.jpgThe reason is the fact that neither natural water source like pond, lake and stream, nor state irrigation system is near the village. To produce coffee, farmers here have to exploit underground water by digging wells. Averagely, the well which is about 30 to 35 meter deep can severed a coffee plantation with thousands square meters.

But, nowadays, in Sut H’Luot village, it is very difficult to find a place where farmer can dig well. Additionally, several wells which used to work before are dry.  When I visited the village, a household has just hired a company to dig a well with 100 meter deep, but there is no water. For coffee producers, lack of water causes not only coffee yield reduction, but also quality lower. As a result, they cannot sell coffee at high price. Several young labors left their commune to go to work as industrial workers to make their living.

Even though, coffee production in Cu Sue commune is not entirely in “grey color”. There are some households who can build new strategies to cope with water scarcity such as water saving technique application or changing crops in their gardens, etc.

The questions addressed from my field trip are:

(i) why not all farmers in the commune apply water saving technique in coffee production although it is not so expensive?

(ii) what are difficulties when they apply that technique?

(iii) How to save water from rainy season (coffee harvest, does not need water) to use for dry season (coffee needs water to flower blooming)?

(iv) if farmers there cannot continue to grow coffee, which kinds of crop should be introduced to them?

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