Lawmakers have emphasised that the plight of farmers needs urgent attention, Viet Nam Farmers' Union President Nguyen Quoc Cuong tells Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam (Viet Nam Economic Times).
Can you comment on the increased focus of late on farmers and the development of agriculture?
It is high time that this happens. In reality, agriculture exports in the first nine months of 2014 saw a decline compared with last year.
For example, the volume of rubber exports dropped by 2.4 per cent and its value also fell by 21.9 per cent. Coffee export turnover was similarly down by 3.59 per cent.
Ironically, when farmers enjoy a bumper crop, wholesale prices drop and when prices are high, it usually mean farm production is down.
Farmers have been plagued by poor quality or fake fertilisers and pesticides for many years. It has caused huge problems for them and damaged their livelihoods. It is high time for the Government to pay attention to agricultural development - our primary industry.
However, in my opinion, human-resource development and the building of new rural areas are the two most important tasks to focus on. In addition, we should gradually narrow the gap between rural and urban areas. To do this, we should establish effective legal institutions and clear-cut policies on the community's role in the nation's agricultural and rural development programme.
What do you think about the Government's policy on agriculture and rural development?
Quite a few good things have been done for farmers. For example, poor households are given subsidies for electricity and health insurance. They have also been given low-interest loans for their children's schooling.
But, in my opinion, this is not enough compared to the difficulties and challenges farmers face. Their lives are tied to the land and they should be able to live well.
What should be done to improve farmers' livelihoods?
In the past 20 years, the amount of agricultural products in the Gross National Products has dropped by 50 per cent and the rural population reduced by about 14 per cent. These figures speak of a big gap between the wealth of urban and rural areas.
Farmers' income from agricultural activities is very low, particularly incomes for farmers in the North.
Generally speaking, a bumper harvest from 360 square meters of a rice crop earns between VND150,000 - 200,000 ($7.5-10). That's the main reason why many young farmers leave home for urban areas.
Just imagine, if all the nation's farmers gave up farming, how would we all eat? And more seriously, what would happen to our food security strategy?
We still don't have a basic, long term or cohesive plan to improve farmers' livelihoods. This question should be addressed urgently.
What policies should be adopted to help farmers and what's the Government's role in these policies?
I think an urgent issue is helping farmers adapt their production and business habits to help the country meet its WTO commitments.
It is time for us to improve upon the comparative advantages of our agriculture products and encourage farmers to preserve and protect the special trademarks of Viet Nam's agro products.
To achieve these objectives, it is important for the Government to play the role of a conductor, guiding farmers in the application of new technologies. — VNS