|Flowers along a rice paddy in An Giang Province's Tan Chau Town attract insects, the natural enemies of rice pests. In the province, 1,600 farmers have planted flowers around 734ha of rice fields. — VNS Photo Le Hoang Vu
CUU LONG DELTA — The flowers planted in rice fields in Mekong Delta An Giang Province may look pretty, but they are there for a more sinister purpose: to attract insects that kill pests.
Thousands of farmers in the province are taking part in a programme launched in Tien Giang Province at the end of 2009 by the International Rice Research Institute, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's Plant Protection Department.
This year, farmer Tran Duc Thanh of An Giang harvested 4.5 tonnes of paddy from his 0.6ha rice field, an increase of 360 kilo compared to previous crops. He also saved VND600,000 (US$30) in production costs.
A member of the Tan Phu A1 Agriculture Co-operative in Tan Chau Town, Thanh has planted flowers on the edge of his paddy fields to attract bees, ladybugs and spiders, which eat brown planthoppers and rice-leaf folders. By planting the flowers, he can avoid using pesticides.
The province has also taught farmers new techniques and required that they plant quality seeds.
Under the programme model, they must reduce the number of rice seeds sown and the use of nitrogen fertilisers and plant-protection chemicals, as well as the volume of water used for irrigation. Post-harvest losses are also expected to be cut.
Trinh Van Dut, chairman of the Tan Phu A1 Agriculture Co-operative, said the cultivation of flowers near rice fields and the use of advanced farming techniques had helped raise profits by VND3 million ($140) per hectare per crop.
Nguyen Huu An, head of the An Giang Sub-Department of Plant Protection, said that 1,600 farmers in An Giang had planted flowers around 734ha of paddy fields.
He said that An Giang had set up 34 performance models in the area to train thousands of farmers.
Because of cuts in labour costs and pesticides, profits per hectare per crop are VND1.2-1.5 million ($50-70) higher than that of normal paddy fields.
In Vinh Long Province, 25 farmers in a 30-ha area in Vung Liem District's Hieu Nhon Commune have participated in the programme.
"Thanks to the prog-ramme, the costs to spray pesticides have dropped significantly," asid Vo Thanh Hai, deputy chairman of Hieu Nhon People's Committee.
Participating farmers have been given flower seeds, five kilos of rice seeds and advanced farming techniques. Farmers plant the flower seeds 10 days before they plant the rice seeds.
Sunflowers, daisies, cosmos, sesame, okra and other varieties of flowers that are easy to grow and yield many blossoms are planted along fields.
Farmer Ha Thanh Hung in Hieu Nhon's Hieu Minh A Hamlet said that previously he had sprayed pesticides to kill brown planthoppers at least three times for each crop. But now he does not use pesticides.
Vo Van Quoc, head of the Vinh Long Sub-department of Plant Protection, said: "This has reduced pollution significantly and created an ecological balance in the paddy fields."
Quoc said his department was drafting a plan to expand the programme and encourage more farmers to grow flowers to attract useful insects.
About 4,000 farmers, mostly in the provinces of An Giang, Vinh Long, Kien Giang, Ben Tre and Long An as well as Can Tho, have planted flowers along their paddy fields, amounting to a total of 2,000ha, according to the Viet Nam Farmers Association. — VNS