HCM CITY — Farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta are jettisoning Good Agricultural Practices since they are not getting adequate returns on the large investments they have to make to obtain GAP certification.
For VietGAP, for instance, they have to meet some 70 criteria and pay around VND20 million (US$950) per hectare of orchard per year.
In case of GlobalGAP, there are more than 300 standards and it costs at least $3,100, according to Vo Tong Xuan, a professor from Long An-based Tan Tao University.
The certificates serve to assure consumers about the quality and food safety at each stage of cultivation, animal husbandry, or aquaculture.
But most farmers did not enjoy the premium for their products they should have.
For instance, more than 90 per cent of GAP-certified dragon fruits in central Binh Thuan Province were exported through illegal channels to markets like China, Malaysia, Hongkong, and Thailand, the provincial Dragon Fruit Development Research Centre admitted.
As a result, they fetched just normal prices, it said.
Only small quantities were exported to Europe, Japan, and the US, markets that are willing to pay extra for high quality, the Binh Thuan Department of Rural Development and Environment (DoNRE) said.
Another fruit, star apples, met with the same fate. The Lo Ren Vinh Kim Star-Apple Co-operative in Tien Giang Province, one of the first to get GlobalGAP certification — in 2008 - sold only 20-30 per cent of its members' products at high prices, and the rest at normal rates.
The co-operative's members have decided not to renew their GAP certification, which is valid for one year.
A large number of farmers in the delta had signed up to apply the practices since 2007.
Tien Giang, the first province to embrace the concept, had nearly 300ha of orchards with GlobalGAP/VietGAP certificate by the end of last year.
Ben Tre Province had more than 150ha of orchards belonging to 300 households.
Binh Thuan has expanded its dragon fruit-growing area from 3,000ha in 2009 to 5,000ha, with more than 6,600 farmers participating.
In the beginning, to encourage farmers to adopt the international standards, many companies involved in exports persuaded them to obtain the GAP certification and even subsidised it.
Local governments, including those of Tien Giang, Long An, and Vinh Long, provided the companies soft loans to encourage the production of high-quality fruits.
But the companies as well as authorities failed to help the farmers build brands for their products or find lucrative outlets for them.
Economists said it is necessary to have someone who can guide the farmers and help them find markets.
Each locality needs to have a business with the capacity to financially support and promote the exports of high-quality fruits to demanding markets.
Xuan also bemoaned the lack of co-operation among enterprises, between enterprises and farmers and buyers and suppliers.
"At the end of the day, the farmers are the ones to lose."
The Binh Thuan Department of Natural Resources and Environment said there was no co-operation among companies and they had been always in competition with each other in trading dragon fruit.
This lack of co-operation between companies and farmers also ended up costing at least one company dearly. Hoang Hau Dragon Fruit Company Limited lost millions of dollars since it bought dragon fruit from unknown sources and its European partners refused to buy since the fruits failed to meet quality standards.
Farmers are one by one abandoning GAP practices and going back to their traditional way of farming also due to the high cost of getting the certification. — VNS