Establishing Vietnam’s Buon Ma Thuot as a global coffee capital

In recent years, Trung Nguyen has proposed many initiatives to promote the coffee of Buon Ma Thuot – the capital of Vietnam’s chief coffee region, Dak Lak – to the world.

I feel that Vietnam’s coffee industry is currently limited by the focus on exporting raw material with low value, and that the reputation of Vietnam’s coffee does not match its stature as one of the world’s largest coffee exporters. This limits the long-term economic benefits for our coffee farmers.

I want our coffee to carry with it to the world the fascinating cultural values of the people and the land that produced it. I want to put not just Vietnamese coffee, but Vietnam’s coffee culture, on the map. I also want to make the Dak Lak province an international role model of sustainable and community-friendly economic development.

As the capital of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, Buon Ma Thuot is the cradle of some of Vietnam’s oldest and most remarkable indigenous peoples. The geology of the region, rich with basalt rock and volcanic soil, was formed some 160 million years ago and is home to ideal conditions for coffee cultivation.

At an average height of 451 metres above sea level, Buon Ma Thuot’s climate is savannah-tropical with two distinct seasons: rainy season from May to October and dry season from November to April. The long-lasting rainy season and plentiful natural water sources have created the ideal conditions for the region’s coffee trees to flourish.

In recognition of the importance of this water to their livelihoods, the local people have maintained their traditional animist custom of worshipping water sources.

During the French colonial era, the fate of Buon Ma Thuot’s people became inextricably entwined with the coffee crop, even though they were not allowed to grow coffee themselves and seldom had a chance to even taste the drink. In 2013, roughly 85 per cent of the local population earns their livelihood from the coffee industry, which has created some 500,000 jobs in the region.

Buon Ma Thuot has been favoured by excellent conditions for coffee cultivation. However, for many decades now we have witnessed the paradox of coffee – the sustained disadvantage of the coffee producers despite the continued growth of the global industry. As an exporter, the Vietnamese industry only receives 10 per cent of the final value that its coffee generates from bean to cup. I believe our producers deserve more than that. In order to do this, I intend to help make Buon Ma Thuot’s coffee a recognised and prestigious brand.

The importance of the coffee tree to the lives of the people in the Central Highlands is reflected in the traditional festivals of the region. Along with the integral role of coffee in the local Gong culture and folk sagas, the enjoyment of coffee has an important role in daily life, even being celebrated with a specific festival.

Nowadays, coffee is more and more important to the region as most households grow coffee for export. Coffee is their major income. Because of the pivotal role of the coffee crop in the lives of local people, enjoying coffee has become a practice rich with custom and tradition. Like in Brazil and Turkey, the local Ede ethnic people drink very strong coffee. However, they will only drink it pure, without any additional ingredients. Locally prepared coffee is filtered through a cotton bag, which is handmade by women for that specific purpose.

While the people of Buon Ma Thuot have been sharing their coffee with the world for many years, they now wish to share the traditions surrounding their product as well.

The Ede peoples’ M’Jor Coffee ceremony, which translates to Respectfully Offering Coffee, recognises coffee as a gift of life and nature and a sacred product of Buon Ma Thuot. The Ede people want to share this ceremony with the international coffee community, showing how Vietnam’s coffee beans are imbued with the soul of the people and land that produced them.

In 2005, Trung Nguyen created the Celebration of Coffee Festival, a national festival with global stature, which has been enjoyed biannually by crowds of domestic and international tourists ever since. As a part of Trung Nguyen’s plan for a National Coffee Cluster in Vietnam, we intend to establish Buon Ma Thuot as a global coffee capital that will become a tourist destination for the millions of coffee enthusiasts.

We are planning the development of an international level multi-disciplinary university, a global coffee museum, a coffee research institute, a research institute for ethnology and indigenous culture, and a coffee exchange in Buon Ma Thuot.

In order to realise this dream, we require the participation of government, ministries, the industries of Vietnam as well as the international coffee community. In the meantime, Trung Nguyen is gradually developing the key elements of the project, including plans for an urban coffee zone, global coffee museum, and global coffee sanctuary. Trung Nguyen has already collected more than 12,000 coffee items for the global coffee museum and a small replica of the facility is on display in Buon Ma Thuot.

Our global coffee capital is a model of sustainable development, recognising the spirit of our people and providing en example for developing countries. At the same time this program is spreading the awareness of Vietnam’s coffee culture and also increasing the value of Vietnamese coffee on the world market.

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