HCM CITY — The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has confirmed that there are farmers abandoning the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standard but asserted their number is small.
Media reports have said that farmers in the southern Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region, especially those from Tien Giang and Vinh Long provinces, have been jettisoning the GAP practices because they are not bringing in promised benefits.
The Tien Giang-based Lo Ren Vinh Kim Star-Apple Co-operative and My Hoa Nam Roi Grapefruit Co-operative in Vinh Long were the country's first two collectives to get the GlobalGAP certification – in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
The certification assures consumers of quality and food safety at each stage of crop cultivation, animal husbandry, or aquaculture.
In the early days, the two co-operatives' products were exported to the US and Netherlands at high prices. But since last year, as the exports have gone down, farmers have been forced to sell their produce at the same price as ‘normal' products.
Since 2008, 70,000ha of agricultural land have come under GAP, of which more than 460ha have received GlobalGAP certification.
Besides GlobalGAP, the agriculture ministry has been also granting VietGAP certification to vegetables, fruits, tea, rice and coffee.
Farmers have to meet more than 300 standards and pay at least US$3,000 to get the GlobalGAP certification, which is only valid for one year, according to Prof. Vo Tong Xuan of the Long An-based Tan Tao University.
The high cost of getting the certification and low benefits accruing from it have been the main reasons for many farmers abandoning GAP practices, experts say.
A lack of guidance and support from authorities for farmers to build brands and find markets as well as poor co-operation among enterprises, farmers, buyers and suppliers have also been blamed for farmers giving up on GAP.
The agriculture ministry, however, has said there are many successful entities still applying international practices with help and guidance from the State and export firms.
Coffee production in the Central Highlands, for example, has seen nearly 20,000 households with a total productivity of 100,000 tonnes being granted UTZ certification, which guarantees that raw materials have been grown and harvested in a responsible manner.
The central province of Binh Thuan has more than one third of its 15,000ha of dragon fruits adhere to VietGAP standards. More than 500ha of these orchards have been contracted to supply fruits for export to the US. It is planned that by 2015, all 5,000ha will meet VietGAP standards.
The agriculture ministry plans to further promote the application of GAP standards in production, which would help compliance with the Law on Food Safety.
The ministry has said that the GlobalGAP standards will be applied for special products aimed at international consumption. Compliance with other international standards such as UTZ Certified, 4C and Rainforest Alliance will be required for key export products like tea, coffee, cocoa and pepper.
It envisages that these crops will be produced and exported via public-private partnership contracts involving enterprises and international groups that guide and help farmers receive GAP certification and promote consumption of their produce.
Farmers will be encouraged to practice VietGAP for products consumed in Viet Nam, and later upgrade the practices to meet international standards. — VNS