Soaring rice exports fail to benefit farmers
Le Hung Vong
(VNS) Notwithstanding the good news that Viet Nam may become the world's No 1 rice exporter, shipping some 7.7 million tonnes this year, farmers remain unhappy because the profits from the grain are much lower this year compared to last.
According to the Viet Nam Food Association (VFA), as of October 30 Viet Nam was the year's top rice exporter with contracts of over 7.6 million tonnes.
Truong Thanh Phong, the VFA chairman, said the country would surpass India to export 7.7 million tonnes.
The average export price this year has been US$433.7 per tonne, $50 less than in 2011. This has led to a decrease in the prices of paddy in the domestic market.
Nguyen Van Giau, a farmer in the Mekong province of An Giang's Phu Tan District, said after the 2011-12 winter-spring crop, hearing about the Government's campaign to buy for the national reserve, he kept his paddy instead of selling it.
But prices did not rise much, and Giau had to sell his dried paddy for VND5,200 per kilogramme as he needed money to plant the 2012 summer-autumn crop.
"We could only earn a profit of VND25 million (US$1,190) from the two crops on 1.7ha of land this year, 20 per cent less than in 2011."
Such a meagre income would not help him put his children through university.
Obviously, farmers who have less than 1ha face even greater difficulties.
Vo Thi Tiem, a farmer in Kien Giang Province's Giang Thanh District, said in the past, in addition to cultivating rice, her family also used to catch fish during the flood season in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta.
But the rapid exhaustion of aquatic resources in the past few years forced farmers with less than 1ha to look for odd jobs such as at construction sites.
Nguyen Minh Nhi, a former chairman of the An Giang People's Committee, said to be prosperous a farmer needs to grow more than 3ha of rice. With smaller areas, a farmer's family can be trapped in poverty especially if a member falls sick.
Dr Nguyen Van Sanh, head of the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta Research and Development Institute, said the top rice exporter title will help Viet Nam gain prestige in the world market.
But Nhi said the No 1 position would be "insignificant" if the majority of rice growers remain poor.
Seafood firm aids breeders
The Tien Giang Province-based Hung Vuong Seafood Co has launched a support scheme for farmers that could rescue the local tra fish industry that has been troubled for the past several months.
The VND500 billion (nearly $24 million) programme envisages Hung Vuong supplying its Viet Thang brand of fish feed on credit to tra farmers, who can pay the company once they sell the fish following harvest.
It offers many farmers an economic lifeline after months of financial problems.
Ngo Van Triet, a tra farmer in My Luong town in An Giang Province, said the feed supplied by Hung Vuong would help him increase the weight of the fish in his breeder farm from the present 650 grammes to 800-1,000g.
Unable to get cheap loans under Government programmes to buy feed for his fish, Triet had to reduce the size of his farm from over 10ha to just 1ha now.
Ngo Van Them, a tra farmer in Can Tho city's Thot Not District, said he too has reduced the size of his farm from 3ha five years ago to just 1ha ha.
Nguyen Van Ky, a member of the Hung Vuong Corp board, said the scheme is aimed at helping farmers who cannot afford feed for their fish, and the two-month credit is interest-free.
But to benefit, farmers must have tra farms with each fish weighing at least 500g.
Ky said when the fish grow large (800-1,000g), Hung Vuong would buy them at VND23,000 per kilogramme.
"Farmers can sell their tra fish to other processors, but have to pay 1 per cent interest per month for the feed," Ky said.
Soon after the programme was launched, around 40 farmers have signed up with Hung Vuong Corp, which expects to supply 10,000 tonnes of feed.
"While the scheme would help farmers cut costs, they would be forced to reduce the size of their farms if tra prices remain lower than production costs," Nguyen Ngoc Hai, chairman of the Can Tho-based Thoi An Seafood Co-op, told Viet Nam News.
Air fares take off for Tet
People complain about the dif
ficulty in buying air tickets online or from travel agents for Tet, which falls in early February 2013.
Ironically, almost all local carriers have announced fleet expansion plans to increase the number of seats during the Lunar New Year, the country's primary festival, which sees a mass exodus every year as people return home to their families.
"I entered the Vietnam Airlines website early in the morning right on the first day of the campaign, but it had only business-class tickets," Pham Van Son of District 9 in HCM City said.
He contacted the airlines' authorised agents later in the morning but they could not sell him tickets either.
A Vietnam Airlines spokesperson admitted there was a problem situation, but blamed it on many people surfing its website at the same time. It was fixed in the afternoon, he claimed.
The bad news for passengers is that all tickets for the week before Tet have been sold out.
The carriers also claim that they are offering the tickets gradually to avoid speculation by travel agents. They usually book large numbers of tickets in advance and later sell them at much higher prices close to Tet.
Jestar Pacific has said there will be two more ticket-selling campaigns before Tet.
They also promise to assist passengers in buying tickets online. — VNS