Vietnam: Using technology to end deforestation and unite people

Aerial view of a forest

Café-REDD, an IKI-funded project in Vietnam, displays on the use of technology and social inclusion to sustain forests in the face of coffee farming expansions.

For decades, the Central Highlands of Vietnam have been a crucial region of agricultural activity, with coffee cultivation driving much of the region's economic growth. However, this expansion has come at a cost. “The rapid expansion of unsustainable coffee plantations to meet global market demands can put immense pressure on natural resources,” says Nam Thanh Pham, the project manager at Café-REDD. “And the people most affected are the rural upland poor farmers who live here, many of whom are struggling financially.”

These small-scale farmers, who mainly depend on coffee production, often find themselves left with the dual challenge of preserving forests while barely meeting their basic needs. Fluctuating coffee prices further compound their hardships, leaving them precariously balanced on the edge of survival.

Group picture in Vietnam
The IKI project Café REDD trained the farmers of Lac Duong in sustainable coffee cultivation - and introduced a digital forest monitoring system to ensure deforestation-free production.

A Rising Tide of Awareness

People working with computers.
Intelligent Operation Centers (IOC) for forestry at Lac Duong.

Fortunately, the tide is turning as global consumer markets are becoming more aware of deforestation issues tied to their coffee cups. The EU's introduction of deforestation regulations for imported goods signals a growing recognition of the need for change. Yet, the road ahead remains challenging, particularly in rural areas of Viet Nam where small-scale producers lack resources and organisation.

The Need for Collaboration and Empowerment

Addressing these challenges effectively requires collaboration between the public and private sector, employing a process that is inclusive and empowering. Ensuring that the farmers involved have a voice and equal benefits as active stakeholders, not just as beneficiaries. 

With this in mind, the development organisation SNV has initiated the Café-REDD project, a collaborative effort supported by the International Climate Initiative (IKI). This project has established a public, private, and producer partnerships (4Ps) to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in Lac Duong district which comprises the Lang Biang UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve in Viet Nam’s Central Highlands. Café-REDD brought together stakeholders to implement a digital forest monitoring and traceability system, which helps keep the whole jurisdiction deforestation free. 

A Digital Deforestation-free Business Ecosystem

Café-REDD's initiative includes cutting-edge technology, with SNV leading interventions in mapping and monitoring forest and coffee areas using drones and near-real time satellite images. “Our system stands out because it seamlessly integrates with the public sector's infrastructure, however it is designed for the needs of both companies and farmers in rural areas,” explains Pham. “This unique setup ensures transparency and facilitates the seamless flow of information, enabling prompt intervention in the event of deforestation within the coffee industry.”

Café-REDD's traceability system is revolutionising coffee marketing and branding in the region. Companies enhance their products by highlighting the journey and practices involved, along with live images and alerts about deforestation risks. This approach not only reassures consumers about sustainable sourcing but also boosts the product's value. As a result, farmers earn higher incomes while deforestation is reduced. This profit-driven initiative can serve as a long-term motivation for companies and farmers to sustain the system. 

Sustainable legacy - what comes after the end of the project

Recognizing the system's efficacy, the provincial government has allocated funds to scale up Intelligent Operating Centres (IOCs) for forest management and integrating this traceability system in other areas. Meanwhile, the SNV continues to equip stakeholders with the tools and knowledge needed to sustain the traceability system long after Café-REDD's completion. Initially targeting three companies, the system has managed to draw in as many as fifteen companies, each bringing their established farmer groups.

From Frontline to Forefront

But beyond the numbers and results lies a story of resilience and cooperation. It is a story of how farmers, once at the frontline of deforestation, have become the guardians of their land, equipped with the tools and knowledge to enact meaningful change. It is a story of how businesses, driven by the promise of sustainable sourcing, have embraced transparency and accountability, fostering a culture of environmental sustainability.

As we reflect on this journey, we embrace IKI's vision for combating deforestation and land use change—a vision rooted in the principles of inclusivity, innovation, and long-term sustainability. By investing in projects like Café-REDD, IKI continues to catalyse change, not only in Vietnam but across the globe, laying the foundation for a future where forests and people thrive in harmony.

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