Skylar Lindsay is a human geographer at the University of Bristol researching agrarian change and the production of commodities, quality, and value. He comes from a background working with local communities around infrastructure and development projects. His PhD research asks how coffee farmers in Vietnam work with value chains and agricultural science to increase the quality and value of their coffee. This project is driven by a need to deepen understandings of development among policymakers, industry, and consumers, from the perspective of commodity producers. His research is grounded in critical political ecologies of development, commodity studies, and science and technology studies. E-mail: Skylar.Lindsay@Bristol.ac.uk
Farmers, Fermentation and Better Coffee: Creating Quality in Vietnam
Abstract: Coffee farming is an increasingly precarious livelihood in much of the world, as farmers struggle with minimal profits, environmental crises, and the inequities of the coffee industry. These challenges are especially pronounced and distinct in Vietnam, as the country has a reputation for producing low-quality, cheap coffee. Some farmers have sought to improve their livelihoods by working to increase the quality of their coffee, often by improving the methods they use to process fresh coffee cherries into dried green beans. All coffee processing involves fermentation, as yeasts and bacteria change the coffee bean in ways that alter its flavors and aromas. This research asks the following: how are coffee farmers in Vietnam creating quality through fermentation and improved processing? This research draws on ethnographic fieldwork with farmers and coffee roasters in Vietnam to trace how farmers work with microorganisms to improve their livelihoods. Building on science and technology studies (STS) and commodity studies, this research brings a deeper, richer understanding of agrarian change and value chains. It shows how the intricate interplay of farmer practices, on-farm ecological relationships and the production of quality are contributing to a re-valuation of Vietnamese coffee as a commodity.
Keywords: agriculture, multispecies environments and ethnologies, science and technology studies, commodities, Vietnam