My name is Y B’lang, I live in Krong Buk region of Dak Lak province. In the end of the last century the farmers of our Cu Ne village were growing only rice and vegetables. We could hardly provide for our families. We traveled exclusively by bicycles. It was 1994 when I planted my first batch of 100 coffee trees. The soil was fertile, but my knowledge was scanty. I didn’t see much profit from coffee until 1998 when I attended seminars at our local extension center.
In 1998 coffee totally transformed our economy, especially in the beginning when the prices were high.
We began to afford better food, to buy fertilizers and pesticides for our gardens, tractors, pipes and sprinklers for irrigation. Then all of a sudden in 2001 coffee lost its value and we struggled for a few years. But later the prices recovered. A lot of farmers switched entirely to coffee as it proved to be the most viable crop despite the price fluctuations. Some started quite late, around 2010, but with the proper training they quickly succeeded. I must say that coffee has been a real game-changer for our area.
However, there were still problems. We often had issues with seedlings and had to waste time and money to choose other varieties until we discovered the Ea K’Mat seedlings. Our yields stabilized. Farmers had plenty of water back then. But since many of us expanded their lands for growing more coffee the water has become scarce. Only those who have access to water and apply right growing methods can get up to 5 tons per ha, comparing to 2-3 tons per ha in the past.
Three years ago I attended the HRNS’s Farmer Field School (FFS) and since then have been constantly learning about coffee growing. Even such seemingly little thing as the distance between trees can greatly affect the yields. We used to plant trees 2-2.5 meters away from each other, but at the Farmer Field School they explained that it causes branches to overlap when trees are 1-2 years old, which means by the time they are 4-5 years old their productivity decrease. Now I keep the suggested distance of 3-3.5 meters and that makes a big difference. Pruning is also important to save more energy for healthy branches.
And irrigation is not as intuitive as we thought it was – the most important first round has to be done at the right moment of the blooming stage.
Speaking of irrigation, some farmers who live close to open water reservoirs are lucky – they can follow the recommendations in the GAP manual, but others, who live further away from water resources, struggle a lot. They can’t apply correct irrigation methods even if they know them. They irrigate irregularly or only a half of the field.
I recently started to do intercropping as it was recommended by the FFS. I grow a few pepper trees to get my own seedlings, and I’ve also planted some durian, avocado and turmeric in my garden. Turmeric is a small plant but has good market value.
This year the HRNS training transformed from Farmer Field Schools to Farmer Coaching Visits. Both have their benefits. It depends on the size of the farm. Small farms of 1 ha are easier to control. If such a farmer has an access to water, can afford equipment and regularly comes to the FFS to learn about growing coffee, he’ll succeed, just give him time to practice. If something is unclear to him, there is always a GAP manual to refer to. On the other hand bigger farms – like mine for instance – require hiring workers, who have very little understanding about agricultural methods, so I have to be able to train them myself. That’s why FCV is more effective for me. First of all I can always interrupt my tutor and ask to explain. Secondly, when we go to practice in the garden it’s only me and the coach who supervises me and corrects my mistakes.