Coffee production has been a major source of income for Vietnam since the early 20th century. First introduced by the French in 1857, the Vietnamese coffee industry developed through the plantation system, becoming a major economic force in the country. After an interruption during and immediately following the Vietnam War, production rose once again after Đổi mới economic reforms, making coffee second only to rice in value of agricultural products exported from Vietnam.
However, despite being one of the world's most competitive producer of Robusta coffee, the coffee industry has become a site of contestations, both real and imagined, within the local and global spaces of interactions. In particular, these tensions are a response to the risks associated with the fluctuating coffee economy which then intensified social inequality and environmental degradation. Due to the perceived macro level failures on the part of the government to mitigate these risks, Vietnamese have, on the micro and group level, produce their own strategies to not only address these effects but to also actively participate in the discourses surrounding the production of knowledge relating to livelihoods.
Cooperation between growers, producers and government resulted in branding finished coffees and exporting products for retail. However, by the late 1970s, economic and social reforms led to labour shortages in the Central Highlands thus creating opportunities for migration into these less populated regions, compared to overpopulated and poverty experienced in the lowland areas. It is likely that between four and five million people migrated to the Central Highlands after 1975.
Vietnam is the second largest producer in the world after Brazil, with Robusta coffee accounting to 97 per cent of Vietnam's total output. However, coffee farmers in Vietnam have always experienced cycles of boom and bust since the 1980s, making the industry a highly volatile one. Despite the fluctuating global coffee prices, importing countries continue paying a steady price while coffee farmers from exporting countries experience the daily price range.
This pattern saw the production of coffee in Vietnam at 29.3 million bags in 2017, nearly 600,000 bags lower than the USDA estimate for that year, due to losses caused by late rain. The USDA Foreign Agriculture Service has correctly predicted the increase in production in 2018, as shown in a Bloomberg report and forecasted a further increase in 2019 due to better land management, higher replanting rates, more efficient storage and significant private sector involvement.
When the global price of coffee dropped in 2001, many farming households had to reduce their daily meal, changed their diets or relied on food donations from the authorities. While the boom allowed children of medium to low income households to attend school and for families to purchase household good like television sets, the declining coffee prices reversed this; children were forced to quit schools and self-employed, subsistence farmers had to find wage labour work.