Hop Tac cooperative: Improving coffee, improving community

20 April 2012

It has been a difficult year and a half for coffee cooperatives. Volatile prices, reduced crops due to climate change, and coffee bushes reaching the end of their productive cycle are just some of the challenges they have been facing.

Meanwhile, the Hop Tac cooperative in Vietnam has been thriving. The cooperative has used training and support from Fairtrade to increase their exports, and they have made investments in their business and community in the process.

The Safe Coffee Producing Cooperative

To Hop Tac San Xuat Ca Phe Sach Vi Suc Khoe Cong Dong (meaning the “Safe Coffee Producing Cooperative”) is one of three Fairtrade coffee organizations in Vietnam. This relatively small Asian country is the second largest coffee producer after Brazil, accounting for 14.3 percent of the world market for green coffee.  Ninety-seven percent of their exports are Robusta beans, including those of the Hop Tac cooperative.

The co-op joined Fairtrade in 2009. It has just 43 members (34 men and nine women), making its achievements all the more remarkable.

Learning what buyers want first-hand

"I used to think that selling coffee is just looking for the buyers. After the forum, however, I understand that we need to do more: to improve our quality to make the buyer satisfied. Then I can sell the product." Member of Hop Tac co-op

Becoming Fairtrade certified has had many benefits, not least training on access to new markets and acquiring buyers.  Fairtrade’s Asia Pacific Coffee Forum in November 2011 was a key event for the co-op. Members were not only able to meet new buyers face to face, but also gain a broader understanding on how to continuously improve their product. In a tough coffee market, this knowledge is crucial.

"I used to think that selling coffee is just looking for the buyers. After the forum, however, I understand that we need to do more: to improve our quality to make the buyer satisfied. Then I can sell the product," said a member of the co-op.

Growing Fairtrade sales

Thanks in part to the Forum, and the buyers the co-op met there, Hop Tac sold more than 270 metric tonnes of green coffee on Fairtrade terms in 2011-12, more than doubling the Fairtrade Premium they received. With an annual output of 600 tons, the group hopes to keep increasing their Fairtrade sales by continuing to invest in quality and productivity.
Investing in production

Since the Fairtrade Coffee Standard review in April 2011, coffee farmers receive a Fairtrade Premium of USD 20 cents /lb of which 5 cents is earmarked for productivity and quality improvement efforts. Hop Tac co-op has used their premium to provide fertilizer and equipment like tractors and grass cutters to their members, and has seen improved yields and quality as a result.
Dao Tich thi Tuyen is one of the co-op’s members. He has been working in the coffee fields as an employee since 1988 and then bought the right to use one hectare of land to grow his own coffee in 1995.

Since joining Hop Tac, Dao now uses organic fertilizer, no longer uses pesticides and has centralized his waste collection. Before joining the co-op he had only 30 minutes of training on how to grow coffee. Now he can join day-long trainings and access individual advice from the internal control system. He also understands how to better monitor his farm. 

“Since I joined Fairtrade, I have changed the way we grow coffee to maintain the environment. In trainings I also learned how to improve cultivation,” said Dao. “Since we use less chemical fertilizer, the soil is richer and we have increased yields.”

Benefits for the community, and beyond

“I used to be a poor farmer from the North, but I came here, worked hard and had a better life.  My life is much better since my cooperative joined Fairtrade. I earn a stable income and I learned to share my wealth with the community using our Premium.  I’m proud to be a Fairtrade member.”
Dao Tich thi Tuyen, coffee farmer and member of Hop Tac co-op

The co-op members have also used the Premium for their communities and families.  They have built a meeting space for the community, and children who perform well in school are given a stipend. Dao says he is happy because his children are able to attend school and study. He hopes they can grow up and work in the city, instead of have the hard life of the farmer.

One of the original objectives of the co-op’s founder was to reach poor or struggling farmers, with fields far from their homes like Dao. Now thanks to all their success, the Hop Tac cooperative is working with another small group of producers to help them enter the Fairtrade system.

“I used to be a poor farmer from the North, but I came here, worked hard and had a better life.  My life is much better since my cooperative joined Fairtrade. I earn a stable income and I learned to share my wealth with the community using our Premium.  I’m proud to be a Fairtrade member.” said Dao.

 
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