BEN TRE — The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Ben Tre, famed as the country's premier coconut growing region, is losing many of its palms as farmers cut them down to grow other trees.
|A farmer tends to his coconut palms in southern Ben Tre Province. Coconut farmers in the province have been advised not to cut down their coconut palms when coconut prices decline. — VNA/VNS Photo Duong Ngoc
A dramatic fall in prices and sales is being blamed for the switch.
The price of dry coconut (the whole nut, not copra), in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta is now VND14,000-16,000 per dozen, just 10 per cent of the price last October when it reached record high.
In addition, coconut farmers who live in remote areas without good transportation facilities are finding it hard to sell the fruits because traders have reduced their purchases.
Farmer Dao Thi Xiem in Ben Tre City's Nhon Thanh Commune has hired people to cut down 70 per cent of 200 coconut trees in her 7,000sq.m orchard to grow green-peeled grapefruits.
Xiem has planted coconut for about 30 years.
Tran Van Tien, a "coconut cutter" in Giong Trom District's Phong My Commune, said he has never worked so hard as at present because many farmers are hiring him to cut their coconut trees.
"Other farmers in Binh Dai District and Ben Tre City have also called me to cut down their coconut palms, but I have turned them down because I am overloaded in Giong Trom District," he said.
Every day, Tien can cut down about 20-30 coconut trees. He says in recent weeks he has cut down about 1,000 coconut trees for 200 households in Giong Trom District.
Other farmers have switched to selling fresh coconuts that fetch better prices now.
The price of dry coconuts has reached the lowest in recent years, according to the province's Department of Industry and Trade.
The domestic supply of coconut is large, but world demand and prices of coconut products have declined, and farmers are stuck with large quantities of unsold coconuts, it said.
The price of desiccated coconut for export, for instance, has declined from US$2,730 a tonne in last September to $1,150 at present, forcing many coconut processors to reduce output.
Many local traders have stopped buying coconuts from farmers because they have also suffered losses and are stuck with a large inventory.
Trader Vo Thi Lan of Giong Trom District now has 700,000 dry coconuts because she was not able to sell them to processors or Chinese traders over the past three months.
Seventy per cent of the coconuts have sprouted and many of them have young leaves, Lan said.
Previously, Chinese boats would buy about a million dry coconuts a day in Ben Tre, but this has fallen by about 70 per cent now, she said.
Ben Tre has about 52,000ha of coconut palms with an annual output of 400 million nuts, accounting for 35 per cent of the country's total coconut production.
In recent years, farmers in the Delta have boosted investment in planting coconuts because the high prices they could get for them.
This year, the coconut output in Ben Tre is estimated to increase by 10-40 per cent.
Pham Thi Han, deputy director of the province's Department of Industry and Trade, said the major support that can be offered to farmers is to encourage processors to co-operate and not reduce export prices.
The Ben Tre Province Coconut Association has also been asked to encourage local processors to buy coconuts at a reasonable price from farmers, she said.
The State Bank of Viet Nam's Ben Tre Branch has instructed local commercial banks to provide loans for processors that export coconut products.
The central bank has also asked local commercial banks, mostly the Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development of Viet Nam, to extend loan terms for coconut farmers.
Coconut farmers who are facing difficulties and want to breed livestock or poultry or plant other trees will be provided with loans if their production plans are feasible.
Tran Anh Tuan, deputy chairman of the Ben Tre People's Committee, said they were formulating a long-term strategy to develop the coconut industry.
Coconut farmers have been advised not to cut down their coconut palms when the price declines because of the difficult situation of the world market.
The People's Committee has also asked the provincial agriculture department to advise farmers on farming techniques to reduce production costs while ensuring productivity.
It has said farmers need to be supported in cultivating new coconut varieties and planting other fruits such as green-peeled grapefruits and cacao in coconut orchards to boost their income. — VNS