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Sweet potato glut prompts search for new customers

Update: September, 15/2012 - 09:23

CUU LONG DELTA (VNS)— Authorities and farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta are struggling to finding new sales outlets for sweet potatoes because of a market glut caused by expectations of high demand in export markets.

The expectations, fuelled by high prices in the Chinese market last year, had farmers cultivating the crop on large area, disregarding caution advised by authorities, local reports say.

Vinh Long Province has recommended that the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development help provinces with market forecasts that would help them control cultivation area at the beginning of each crop.

Authorities in Vinh Long, Dong Thap, Kien Giang and Can Tho City say they were not able to control the cultivation of sweet potatoes on a large area.

Among these localities, Vinh Long has the largest cultivation area for sweet potatoes.

According to Nguyen Van Liem, deputy director of the Vinh Long Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the province had 5,100ha of sweet potatoes in 2009, but it had increased to 9,800ha by August this year.

Nguyen Hoang Hoc, head of the Vinh Long People's Committee's office, said the spontaneous increase in sweet potato cultivation began after a bumper crop last year, when a tonne of sweet potatoes was priced at VND10 million for export to China.

Vinh Long's experience sparked increases in cultivation areas in Can Tho and Dong Thap of 700ha and 800ha respectively.

By May, harvested sweet potatoes began piling up in the province due to difficulties in export. Prices fell to VND1.7 million per tonne and dealers limited purchases, leaving farmers facing huge losses.

"The export of sweet potatoes is completely dependent on the China market. They stop buying at this time, so there's no way to deal with the piling up," said Son Van Luan, chairman of the Tan Thanh Sweet Potato Co-operative in Vinh Long.

The co-operative attempted to access the Malaysian market and won a contract to export 240 tonnes of sweet potatoes. However, this is not a significant amount compared to the quantity that has piled up in the delta provinces.

Dr Tu Van Binh of the HCM City Economic University advised the provinces to engage in trade promotion for sweet potatoes targeting Japan, the US, the UK, Indonesia and Singapore. He said there is a high demand for sweet potatoes in these countries.

Liem said authorities in the provinces should work closely with each other to control cultivation areas of the crop. He said farmers should also act together through co-operatives for better assessment of market needs. —VNS

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