Minister promotes hi-tech farming
HA NOI — Viet Nam's agriculture sector should shift from being supply-driven to being demand-driven, which would help modernise the sector and add value to agricultural products, experts said at a policy forum yesterday.
|Researchers supervise the growing of orchids in the laboratory. Agricultural experts say that farmers should apply advanced technology to modernise the sector and boost its products. — VNA/VNS Photo Manh Linh
Speaking at the forum on discussing the application of hi-tech equipment and techniques in agriculture and rural development, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Planning Cao Duc Phat said the sector had not done well in applying advanced technology despite the Government's approval of a project to boost technology in rural areas during the 2010-20 period.
"Application of advanced technology in agriculture plays a critical role in our efforts to restructure the sector toward more sustainable development," he said. "However, we think that the process has been slow."
More than 25 years after the launch of the renewal process, Viet Nam's agriculture has been suffering from low competitiveness, even when compared with poorer regional countries, despite Viet Nam being one of the world's leading exporters of rice and coffee.
The GDP growth rate in agriculture slid from 4 per cent annually in 1995-2000 to 3.83 per cent in 2001-05, and 3.3 per cent in 2006-2010. The application of technology in processing and storing has been limited, causing Viet Nam to mostly export raw materials.
Very few agricultural product brand names are associated with Viet Nam while also being recognised globally.
In addition, there are problems of constant adverse weather effects, outbreaks of diseases and the impacts of climate change.
Nguyen Van Bo, head of the Viet Nam Academy of Agriculture Science, said a high-tech agriculture sector means applying not just one, but various types of technology - such as automation, new mechanisms, biology, modern management systems - that could better take advantage of the country's natural resources and weather conditions.
The target for a high-tech agriculture sector is to yield products that result from quality scientific research, eat up less materials and meet the consumers' diverse demands in types, time (out of season) and quality.
According to Bo, businesses play a central role in connecting other stake-holders in the sector: government authorities, farmers and scientists to enhance the application of technology.
Currently, even for Viet Nam's exported agricultural products, research has shown that all of the profits come from production phases that occur outside the country, which means less benefits to local growers.
"The price you pay for drinking a made-in-Viet Nam cup of coffee is inevitably higher than the price for 1kg of raw coffee," he said. "That's something to think about. Why can Thailand export our blue dragon fruit to Europe at a lower price than us?"
Bo said China estimated that application of science and technology contributed 51 per cent of the country's value-added growth in agriculture in 2009.
In Viet Nam, work on ensuring advanced technology in agriculture has been mostly policy-driven, which did not derive from on-the-ground conditions, he said. Efforts must also be made to build regional hi-tech agriculture centres that can take advantage of favourable products from that particular region.
Conference participants also heard about agriculture in Israel, a country with only a little more than 20,000km2 that suffered from desertification and other extreme weather conditions, but still managed to export fruit and vegetables worth of US$2.1 billion in 2010.
Only 2.5 per cent of Israel's population actually works in agriculture.
Viet Nam, with more than 70 percent of its population working in agriculture, has been plagued by outdated technologies and facilities. Even in fruitful seasons, farmers still suffer from low prices and pressure from traders.
Meanwhile, most businesses consider investing in technology for agriculture as risky. Nguyen Tan Hinh, deputy head of MARD's Department of Science, Technology and Environment, said that a national project planned to build hi-tech agriculture zones, offering tax incentives, land policies for businesses and supplementary funding, along with support in getting equipment for scientific research.
Viet Nam spent VND2.6 trillion (US$125 million) between 2005-2011 on scientific research in agriculture and application of the latest technologies.
During the period, there 4,300 scientific studies were carried out on boosting production, including work on cultivating more disease resistant and productive crops.
An Giang set for boost
An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta is calling for investment in several agriculture projects for the 2012-15 period, including the 5,302ha hi-tech plant seedling centre, the 5ha Chau Thanh Rice Market and a vegetable and fruits wholesale market in Tan Phu District for exporting vegetable and fruits to Cambodia.
An Giang is considered an important economic trade centre strategically located between three big cities – HCM City, Can Tho and Cambodia's Phnom Penh.
Over the past years, the province has instructed farmers to apply advanced farming techniques, including the"1 must and 5 minuses" rice cultivation model and increase the use of agriculture machines.
Under this model, farmers must plant quality seeds of clear origin approved by the authorities and reduce the quantity of seeds sowed, the amount of nitrogen fertilisers and plant protection chemicals used, the volume of water used for irrigation and cut post-harvest losses.
Currently, there are about 8,300ha of rice cultivated using the large-scale model under which farmers whose fields are near each other cultivate the same rice variety, use the same farming techniques and cultivation schedule. This has helped farmers reduce production costs.
An Giang has also created conditions for farmers to access the internet and learn about new advances in farming. It has installed computers with internet access in farmers' clubs, cafes and community learning centres in remote areas.
Farmers have also benefited from preferential policies, including bank loans, to support investment in agriculture machinery.
An Giang farmers now have more than 1,600 harvesting machines that are able to harvest more than 97,000ha in each rice crop.
The use of these machines has, according to provincial officials, reduced post harvest losses by 34,000 tonnes of rice worth VND254 billion (US$12 million). It has also helped local farmers save VND500,000 per hectare on their harvesting costs. — VNS