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Pause for thought with WestWays Vending as you take your coffee break

After a busy day at Westways Vending, I have just watched second in the series of The Coffee Trail with Simon Reeve on BBC2, and it was not as cosy to watch as I had expected. The series investigates the global trade of tea and coffee, and this programme was filmed in Vietnam and set out to uncover the truth behind one of the nation’s most popular drinks.

Eighty per cent of the coffee consumed in the UK is instant, with British people drinking millions of cups each week, and Vietnam is our biggest supplier. From Hanoi in the north, Simon followed the coffee trail into the remote central highlands, home to many of the minority indigenous people. Here, following the Vietnam War, the government launched a vast coffee-growing programme to help the country’s recovery.

At this point in the programme, the true cost of my cup of coffee began to dawn on me:
3 million people from North Vietnam migrated south to take up the opportunity to start their own coffee farm. Problems arose as tensions grew between the numerous incomers and the indigenous people. Large areas of land were deforested to make way for coffee plantations, threatening species including tigers and elephants, which are now almost extinct today. The legacy of the Vietnam war remains, and we were shown growers who had suffered devastating injuries as a result of landmines which remain buried. Nonetheless, these small-scale farmers, each working two or three acres, now produce Robusta coffee beans that go into our well-known instant coffee brands; and Vietnam has become the second biggest producer in the world.

Coffee has provided employment for millions, making some very rich indeed. The programme featured “Chairman Viv” a Bentley-driving coffee “baron” who is making his fortune trading in coffee, and intends to become as internationally renowned as Starbucks.
Despite his success, Vietnam’s coffee growers face threats.

Climate change has bought cyclones and increased rainfall with the potential for flooding and crop damage. The coffee plantations which were all planted around the same time are ageing. It was reported that up to 50% of the coffee plants will need to replaced in the near future. Robusta coffee beans are low quality. Demand is increasing for the higher quality Arabica beans used in coffee shops for bean to cup drinks. Will there continue to be the same market for Vietnamese Robusta beans in years to come? Will the growers be required to, or be able to adapt to a changing market place?

Something to ponder over with your next cup of coffee.
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