Posted in Kafevend Blog
Like the British, Dutch and other European powers, the French built up an overseas empire during their history. One of the areas of this empire was the region known as French Indochina, which included the country now known as Vietnam. French colonists recognised the potential of the Vietnamese central highlands as an area that would be well suited to growing coffee, like the Dutch efforts in nearby Indonesia. In 1954 the Vietnamese people managed to force France's withdrawal, but with the country split into north and south, war continued until its unification in 1975.
One of the major battles of the Vietnam war was the Battle of Khe Sanh, which extended over six months from January to July in 1968. During the fighting, an aerial bombing campaign known as Operation Niagara provided air support to the besieged American troops surrounded on the ground in the Khe Sanh combat base. Somewhere in the region of 100,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the hills around the base, resulting in thousands of casualties for the North Vietnamese Army. Unfortunately, the bombs dropped during the battle are still causing deaths.
Like the French colonists, the government formed at the war's end recognised the potential of coffee as a cash crop. The grounds around Khe Sanh were ideal for growing coffee, were it not for one problem- several thousands of bombs dropped in the battle didn't go off, and instead ended up burrowing into the ground. Whilst self preservation would encourage you to get as far from such a place as possible, the poverty that many farmers live in in Vietnam means that they have no choice but to grow their coffee in these areas. Over the decades since the war, thousands of coffee farmers have been maimed or killed by unexploded bombs and landmines that remain hidden beneath the soil. Living with the brutal legacy of war is a risk undertaken each day.