Small-scale farms lack financial support
HA NOI (VNS)— A newly-published report led by Oxfam has underlined the need to increase public and private investment in Viet Nam's small-scale agriculture industry, which acounts for nearly 80 per cent of all farm households in the country.
|A farmer harvest rice in the central province of Quang Tri's Hai Lang District. Small-scale farmers need to play a stronger role in agricultural policy, say experts. — VNA/VNS Photo Ho Cau
The report was unveiled at a press conference yesterday under the title: Growing A Better Future.
Based on Oxfam's development work in 26 Vietnamese provinces, it found that fourth-fifths of the country's farmer households have less than 0.5 ha of paddy land at their disposal.
Bert Maerten, a co-author of the report, said agriculture has been a key driver of economic growth and the main source of poverty reduction in Viet Nam.
"It was farmers' industriousness and productivity that turned Viet Nam from a food deficit country into a major exporter of agricultural commodities. Agriculture remains the largest employer of the poorest people in the country."
Nevertheless, investment in agriculture is insufficient because only 6.3 per cent of the state budget for investment goes towards agriculture; down from 13.8 per cent a decade ago, he said.
Dang Kim Son, general director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Agriculture and Rural Development, said Viet Nam is one of South East Asia's lowest investors in the agriculture sector, a trend which has been prevalent over the last 25 years.
Moreover, the country's investment isn't reaching the areas which need it most. About 80 per cent of investment is funneled into big projects for irrigation works. Meanwhile, international experts suggest the investment should focus on rural traffic projects and research to increase agricultural productivity. Irrigation works are a lower priority and should be focused on a smaller scale, he said.
Maerten said farmers, especially small-scales are also the hardest hit by natural hazards which are set to intensify over the coming decades.
"Ecological degradation, climate change, volatile market prices and competition for natural resources add an extra element of risk for farmers."
"Land conversion is also creating additional pressures. As many as three million Vietnamese people had their lives disrupted as a result of land conversions in the last five years."
Son echoed these sentiments and said small-scale farmers have faced an increase in crop and animal diseases, while also having to face the depletion of forests and natural resources and a decline in ecological diversity.
He said it is time for the country to re-evaluate investment into the sector.
Le Nguyet Minh, a co-author of the report said at least 10 per cent of public expenditure should go to agriculture, while investment methods need to be adapted.
"As agriculture becomes more market driven, it will inevitably cause changes in public investments and we need to counter this by learning lessons from the past."
Experts also agreed that small-scale farmers should be empowered and given a stronger voice in policy making.
Son said: "Farmers should have a chance to voice their opinions on the feasibility and effectiveness of investment and assistance policies affecting their lives before anyone else."
Nguyen Thi Bay, a farmer in northern Hoa Binh Province's Phong Phu Commune said with technical assistance, she and other farmers in her commune have developed new strains of rice and recovered depleted ones. This investment method differs from past years when farmers were only given financial assistance to buy breeds or seeds.
"We are not only saving money from not having to buy seeds, but also earning more from selling our own seeds to others at a price five to eight times cheaper than hybrid seeds, giving higher yields which are better adapted to local conditions."
However, the relevant authorities should invest more in teaching farming skills to protect and promote our newly-developed strains of rice in the markets. They should also help farmers produce or procure suitable equipment for production, she said.
Maerten said it is necessary to strengthen small-scale farmers' presence in the markets because they "rarely exercise any power in markets where middlemen and processors call the shots."
The report found price margins taken by private dealers in remote areas can range from 20 and 50 per cent.
Minh said the government should enable and support more community-led initiatives as the immediate gains produced tend to reach farmers more quickly, providing encouragement to keep moving forwards. — VNS