“The situation is very serious and could become catastrophic if rain doesn’t come soon,” said Nguyen Nam Hai, vice chairman of Vicofa. “A huge number of coffee growers in the region have already been put out of business.”
Over 20,000 hectares of farm land, primarily used for growing coffee, around the prime growing area of Buon Ma Thuot in Dak Lak province have been severely damaged by the water shortage, said Mr Hai.
Mr Hai underscored the point that there are preliminary reports that as many as 165,000 hectares of coffee farmland may be at risk of loss from the drought and that 60,000 hectares might already have been wiped out.
Based on Vietnam average yields for coffee, he said, a loss of 20,000 hectares of productive land could result in losses in excess of one million 60-kilogram bags from just the Buon Ma Thuot region alone.
Pictures taken within the last two weeks show entire farms completely wilted after the massive dry spell, that has wreaked havoc on the current 2015-16 harvest and comes just as trees were supposed to start flowering for the next 2016-17 crop.
“Owners of coffee plantations in the Central Highlands region are lamenting over their dying plants, the hot dry weather and are already pointing the finger at dams constructed by the Hoang Anh Gia Lai Corporation as a contributory cause of the devastation.
A local paper, the Mekong Witness reports that growers often use water from Ia Cham Stream but had recently found the stream to be drying out.
Those families living close to Ia Cham Stream have been able to save part of their coffee crops, according to the newspaper, but families further away face cataclysmic consequences from the lack of access to water.
Grower Le Van Viet said he has grappled with associated problems of finding water for the better part of two weeks and fears his entire coffee plantation is at risk of being lost, the paper said.
Unseasonably warm weather has been blamed as the root cause for the drought, worsened by the extended impact of climate change that has provoked an unusually powerful El Nino effect.
The last six months have seen only half of the average rainfall recorded in previous years, according to Tran Trung Thanh, vice director of Centre for Hydro‑Meteorological Forecasting in the Central Highlands.
Mr Thanh also warned that drought conditions are expected to worsen this year and in the foreseeable future.
Coffee prices remain unpredictable
As a result of the prolonged drought coffee prices in the coming months remain unpredictable, said the Vice Chairman of Vicofa.
A kilo of coffee in the Central Highlands is currently selling at US$1.43-US$1.57, up US$.20-US$.22 per kilo compared to early February.
The export price of Robusta coffee to other countries is now at US$1,493 per metric ton, up US$11 against early April.
However, he noted, that if it rains in late April and early May, the price of coffee should stabilize and hold steady from there on out.