Plant Cultivation Department general director Nguyen Tri Ngoc tells Viet Nam News reporter To Nhu that the nation has set a target to export up to 7.3 million tonnes of rice this year.
Last year was described as a successful year for Vietnamese rice farmers. How do you respond to that?
I totally agree. The entire Vietnamese agriculture industry had a great year in 2011. Rice production reached 41.5 tonnes and 7.2 million tonnes were exported.
With such success, benefits enjoyed by the farmers increased by about 30 per cent.
However, throughout the year, the nation's primary industry had to overcome many difficulties and challenges, mostly natural disasters like severe droughts and tropical storms.
For example, a long drought and a 33-day cold spell delayed the winter-spring crop cultivation in the northern region by a full 20 days.
Meanwhile, pests and salt infiltration caused immense problems for the farmers in the south. With timely guidance from our department, however, the southern farmers earned a bumper Summer-Winter crop and added about 1.5 million tonnes of rice paddy that season.
We are very happy to say that the value of our rice has increased considerably to a current average of over $500 per tonne. As a result, Viet Nam gained a record-breaking $3.5 billion from rice exports in 2011.
What should Viet Nam do to build the good reputation of domestic rice in international markets?
In my opinion, the first thing we should do is to start from the farmers' interest and enhance the advantages of our rice.
We're now in the process of restructuring the work force in the agricultural industry while stepping up land aggregation with the hope of producing higher quality products.
We have already instructed farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region to use five main rice varieties and five replacement varieties in each province in the region, starting with the 2011-2012 Winter-Spring season, in order to ensure the quality and value of the crop.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development aims to develop Vietnamese trade marks by creating specific investment plans for each rice variety in accordance with Good Agricultural Practice (GAP). The ministry has encouraged farmers to apply scientific methods and post-harvest technology to improve rice cultivation, as well as to engage in safe storage practices.
More recently, the National Assembly has adopted a resolution to reserve 3.8 million ha for agriculture production, of which 2.2 million ha are allocated for rice cultivation. In your opinion, will the resolution have a strong impact on national food security?
That decision is paramount to our nation's food security strategy and sustainable development. We all know that each year Viet Nam gains another million people while the agricultural land remains the same, or is eaten up by construction. We also have to think seriously about the effects of climate change.
At present, Viet Nam is a major rice exporter. Yet, in the long run the rice we produce will be only sufficient to feed our people (if we're lucky). In a worse scenario we may have to start importing, which will create a serious problem of food security. That's the fuse leading to social disability.
To ensure food security, the most important factor is to have sufficient land to grow rice – a tool that cannot be replaced by any other means.
Rice plants bring advantages to farmers and to our nation. There is no room for any argument on this fact.
The government has issued many policies enabling the farmers to continue to grow rice. Yet, in many localities, farmers have given up rice cultivation in favour of other plants. How do you respond to that?
This problem has various causes. In my opinion, the key reason is that the income from rice is much lower than from other occupations. To encourage the farmers to grow rice, the government has issued a Decree on the management and use of land, particularly plots dedicated to rice cultivation.
We should remember that the meaning of the phrase ‘rice cultivation' is not rigid. On such plots, other type of plants could be grown in rotation. The final objective is to restructure the agricultural model and improve the land efficiency without destroying the soil quality. — VNS