WATER SCARCITY: SAVING COFFEE OR CHANGING THE CROPS AND LIVELIHOOD STRATEGIES

by Nguyen Phuong Le


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Picture 1: Coffee plant

All members of the Ede minority in Cu Sue lived on rice shifting cultivation until the establishment of the State-run Ea Pok Coffee Company in 1985. Since that time, Ede farmers in three villages where I conducted the research have been required to do fixed cultivation. All Ede farmers were resettled along Ea Chan stream and allocated from one to two thousand square meters as residential land and one hectare of state land to grow coffee. With fertile soil and a relevant local climate, both Ede and Kinh farmers of Cu Sue commune achieved yields of up to five tons of dried coffee seed per hectare and buoyant coffee prices throughout the 1990s provided high cash incomes. The rapid area expansion led to substantial forest destruction. Forest destruction in Cu Sue as well as in other places could be seen as a reason for which surface water cannot be stored and ground water becomes deeper. This causes water shortage for agricultural production in the region. Other reason is the fact that farmers increasingly expand area of coffee and rice – two crops consume much water.

Coffee growers in Cu Sue commune reported that they have been suffering from water shortage since 2015. However, water scarcity has become more serious since the beginning of 2016. It is witnessed that in 2015, most of paddy fields of three Ede villages still had enough water for cultivation, but in 2016 all of them have been left empty.

As a consequence, average productivity of coffee in the commune was only 1.5 tons per hectare in 2015, much lower in comparison with productivity in 2014. Household’s coffee productivities were 2.6 tons and 1.4 tons per hectare in 2010 and 2015 respectively. As strongly influencing by water scarcity, all coffee growers in Cu Sue have to find the ways to cope with such situation. The ways in which coffee growers have coped with water scarcity depend on their households’ economic, social and cultural conditions.

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Picture 2: Coffee harvesting

Located in Sut H’Luot village, H’Rec’s family is one of the poorest ones though both husband and wife are young and they have two plantations with ten thousand square meters of coffee. There is only one well to water a plantation with 5,000m2 of coffee, the other one is rain-fed. Since 2014, water has become very scarce, so a half of her coffee area died while the remained one can be harvested at very low productivity. Her family is so poor that they have no money to dig or deepen well. She also intercropped pepper and avocado in coffee plantation, H’Rec failed though she tried. As a result, she decided to grow maize in a death coffee plantation. Apart from coffee land, her family was allocated 300m2 of paddy land. H’Rec’s family could harvest only 200kg of coffee per hectare, 200kg of rice and 500kg of corn in 2015. Talking with me in April and again in June, she predicted that her family might not harvest any coffee seed in 2016. Talking with me in April and again in June, she predicted that her family might not harvest any coffee seed in 2016. In order to meet food security, H’Rec and her husband have to seek jobs as hired labors. However, as unavailable employment in the region, they merely about three days per person every month with the wage rate of 130,000 VND per day. H’Rec’s family is in very difficult situation.

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Picture 3: Selling avocado by local grower

Medium and better-off households have not been impacted by drought as strongly as poor ones. Most of these households can diverse their livelihood strategies and intercrop pepper and avocado in coffee plantation. H’Ruom’s family is an example. They live in the same village with H’Rec and their coffee plantation has been also heavily impacted by water scarcity. However, their economic situation was not so difficult. Apart from farming, H’Ruom works as a fruit trader. Everyday, she bought fruits including durians, mangoes, avocadoes, rambutans and so on from local growers, transported to Buon Me Thuot city – Dak Lak province’s centre to sell to urban consumers to get small profit. Averagely, she can earn one hun dred VND per day. Like other male labors in the village, her husband also works as a hired labor about three days per month and his wage rate is 150,000 VND per day. Their income from off-farm activities not only meets food and necessary needs, but also helps them to save coffee plantation by deepening existing well to get more water. This means that nowadays several coffee growers cannot live on coffee anymore. By contrast, they develop off-farm strategies or grow other crops in order to get money to invest in coffee production.


Image sources
Featured image: http://cdnau.ibtimes.com/sites/au.ibtimes.com/files/2015/08/26/coffee-farmer.jpg
Picture 1: http://anthaigroup.vn/img_data/images/Net-dep-tu-nhien-ca-phe-buon-ma-thuot.jpg
Picture 2: http://i.dtinews.vn/images/editor/images/lanhieu/112016/12/Big/673906740cf9a13903fcc8e0854f2f5f.jpg
Picture 3: https://icstravelgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Dalat-Avocados-1288×724.jpg