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Hi-tech agriculture has to match specific needs

Update: September, 06/2017 - 09:00
Nguyễn Anh Phong, Director of Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Information under the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD). — Photo courtesy of IPSARD
Viet Nam News

Hi-tech agriculture has been riding a new wave of investment in recent years, with the Government viewing technology as key to restructuring the sector, achieving food security and improving produce quality. Nguyễn Anh Phong of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development speaks to Việt Nam News reporter Nguyễn Linh Anh about the new spirit of innovation.

Việt Nam has identified the development of hi-tech agriculture as the sector’s development orientation in the coming years. However, it is said that farmers have not grasped this concept fully and correctly. Can you comment?

Although the term “hi-tech agriculture” has been around for quite a long time, it seems that there is still confusion about what it means. Most people generally understand that it means a technology-based farming method, which sounds pretty sensible, but is actually insufficient.

Yes it can be said that term has only been understood properly by policy makers and researchers, while most farmers have a limited understanding that also limits their ability to fully tap the potential for hi-tech agriculture.

Many farmers think that when they grow flowers in a glass house they are engaging in hi-tech agriculture. Actually, hi-tech agriculture involves a lot more, from the production of quality seedlings and plant varieties, cultivation technology, automation, IT application, biotechnology, organic farming and development of human skills to get high-yielding, good quality produce.

The agricultural methods of Israel, Singapore and Japan are welcomed and applauded in Việt Nam. Many leading farming technology companies have been investing and transferring technology to Việt Nam. However, experts say we should not mechanically apply models of foreign countries here. What is your opinion?

It would be absurd to mechanically apply farming models of a country with cutting-edge production technologies to another country’s agriculture sector characterised by use of outdated cultivation methods and scattered production.

In developed countries with advanced agriculture sectors, technology is applied synchronously on a large-scale basis with evenly-developed infrastructure and highly skilled labour. Conversely, in Việt Nam, a country with erratic climate, uneven terrain, scattered production and incomplete distribution system, hi-tech agriculture can only be developed in places that meet certain infrastructure requirements and technical demands.

Generally speaking, the technology chosen for farming must suit the particular characteristics of each country and territory, like climate, infrastructure, market orientation and socio-economic situation. For example, in areas prone to drought and salinity, it is necessary to use biotechnology to generate drought-resistant and salinity-resistant seedlings.

Việt Nam needs to quickly research more and invest in technology that suits the country’s different cultivation conditions. If we receive technologies from foreign countries without proper adjustments, hi-tech agriculture will definitely become a "private operation zone" for large enterprises.

Recently, in an interview with the media, Nguyễn Hữu Thái Hoà, Vice Chairman of the VNPT Strategic Advisory Council, said that in smart agriculture, the decisive factor is not information technology but professional expertise. What is your opinion?

I agree. As I mentioned earlier, the success of applying technology in agricultural production depends mostly on the actual conditions of land, climate and production methods. There is no denying that in order to develop technology-based agriculture, we need to develop an infrastructure network that requires IT professionals, however, that is not the decisive element.

Some experts have said that human resources are the biggest constraint for businesses when investing in hi-tech agriculture because it requires skilled workers. It is estimated that more than 97 per cent of current agricultural workers are untrained. How can we tackle this problem?

It is true that the lack of skilled labour is a bottleneck for hi-tech agriculture development. For example, there are technicians or engineers who have spent their entire life researching and grasping traditional farming methods and not conversant with advanced technologies, far less applying it in production.

The solutions to this problem include improving the staff qualifications at research institutes, socialising the research system on hi-tech agriculture and renewing management mechanisms of the research system.

Besides, it is also necessary to strengthen the effectiveness of the agricultural extension system and introduce new technology or information on farming methods to farmers.

We should also use an education model that applies visual training for workers and farmers and they should be implemented on the ToT (Training of Trainers) basis, a high-level professional learning process for qualified trainers who will then build capacity for evidence-based programme (EBP) implementation.

The development of hi-tech agriculture requires great investment in modern facilities involving mechanics, electronics, automation, biotechnology, processing and preservation technology and so on. What are the negative environmental impacts hi-tech farming can have, especially in the long run?

The idea to find technological solutions to support agricultural production comes in the context that the world’s agriculture sector needs to increase food production by 70 per cent by 2050, but requiring less use of fertilisers and chemical pesticides to improve product quality and preventing climate change from negatively affecting agriculture. Therefore, hi-tech agriculture can be seen as a way to lessen the negative impacts on the environment.

However, it can not be asserted that hi-tech agriculture is always clean agriculture or that it protects the environment. It depends on the awareness and conscientiousness of those who engage in it. — VNS

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