We could soon order our coffee with two sugars and a side of reduced carbon emissions. Coffee farmers in Vietnam, the second biggest producer of coffee in the world, can reduce their carbon footprint by growing different plant species alongside coffee.
These are the findings of a new report, Source or sink? The carbon footprint of Vietnam robusta coffee, from the Initiative for Sustainable Landscapes program by IDH — The Sustainable Trade Initiative, and based on the work of coffee traders JDE Coffee, Lavazza, Olam, and Acom.
Together with improved fertilizer and water use, this diversification could significantly reduce the impact of coffee production on climate change. Farmers can also broaden the range of income sources available to them, increasing their climate resilience. The findings come amidst reports that severe droughts in Vietnam could considerably reduce this year’s coffee output.
Daan Wensing Director of Global Landscapes at IDH said, “Climate change is a threat that requires urgently rethinking the farming systems in which coffee is produced. This research brings hope that communities and coffee farmers can become more climate-resilient, and our coffee more sustainable. Together with more efficient fertilizer and water use, diversification can be at the forefront of efforts to make coffee production carbon positive.”
Coffee production has a huge economic benefit for the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, where 95% of its coffee is produced. At the same time, it is a source of carbon emissions through significant use of fertilizer, water, and energy.
The report found that monocrop coffee farms are net sources of carbon, releasing 0.37 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year per metric ton of coffee produced.
Conversely, diversified coffee farms are carbon sinks, removing 0.16 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year per metric ton of coffee produced. Growing pepper, durian, avocado and other crops alongside coffee creates more biomass, sequestering more CO2 than is generated through production.
Of the small number of monocrop farms that did sequester CO2, more efficient use of fertilizer (the leading driver of carbon emissions in coffee farming) was found to be the reason. The research spanned two years and analysed the carbon footprint of robusta coffee production on 300 farms in the Central Highlands provinces of Lam Dong and Dak Lak.
IDH works with local and national governments, private companies and smallholder farmers to support coffee producers in the Central Highlands in reducing their carbon footprint, maximize water and fertilizer use, and to adapt to climate change. Daan Wensing concluded: “Diversification is a growing concept in Vietnam. As more farmers adopt this and other agroforestry methods, the number of farms that serve as carbon sinks will grow, becoming crucial drivers of both climate mitigation and resilience.”