Vietnam has a long history of tea cultivation, dating back 3,000 years. Since the French established the first tea plantation in Phu Tho in 1890, tea has become an important commodity for economic development. In recent years, Vietnam’s tea production has grown significantly, making it one of the world’s largest tea producers.
Tea cultivation is spread throughout the country, with 34 provinces and cities now growing tea on 125,000 hectares of land, an increase of 63.8% from 1999. Over the period of 2005-2011, tea production grew at an average of 8.5% per year, with yield and area growing at 3.1% and 2.5% respectively. However, tea yield is still low, reaching only 3.1% on average during this period. The Northern provinces, which are more conducive to tea production, have yields that typically range from 11-12 tons per hectare, while traditional tea varieties in the midland only have a capacity of 4 tons per hectare.
Vietnam’s tea sector is export-oriented, with almost 80% of production destined for foreign markets. Vietnam’s tea products are now present in over 100 countries and territories worldwide, with an average annual export value of up to $200 million. The main export is low-quality black tea processed using orthodox technology, sold wholesale without labels, branding, or packaging.
Tea exports from Vietnam have grown at a high rate, approximately 14.1% per year from 1996-2010. The figure increased more than six times compared to 1996, from 20.8 thousand tons in 1996 to 138 thousand tons in 2010.
The export price of Vietnamese tea is dependent on fluctuations of world prices. The average export price in 2001-2005 period was $1,061 per ton, lower than the average price in 1996-2000 which was $1,351 per ton. However, in the next five years, the figure climbed to $1,288 per ton. Although tea exports increased over the years, the export value remains comparatively lower than other nations, with Vietnam’s tea exports only accounting for 60% of the global average price (approximately $2,400 per ton).
Vietnam’s tea industry still faces challenges, including unequal distribution of power and allocation of costs and margins in the tea value chain. There is a need to foster the integration and participation of the poor in the tea chain to better distribute gains from improvements. Addressing these challenges could help improve the position of the most disadvantaged in the industry.