Nguyen Quoc Cuong, chairman of the Viet Nam Farmers' Union, speaks to Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam (the Viet Nam Economic Times) about key measures to boost Vietnamese agricultural production.
Agriculture has been described as the primary industry of our country, yet its growth rate has declined over the last three consecutive years. What can you tell us about this situation?
In my opinion, the key reason is that our investment in agricultural development has decreased considerably over the last two decades. For example, in the 2005-2010 period, the rate of investment dropped to 6.12 per cent as compared to 32.4 per cent in the 1989-1990 period. From 2012 to 2014, investment dropped further to 6.06 per cent.
Coupled with low investment was a sluggishness in agricultural consumption, and the fact that farmers do not have the right to decide the price of their own products. These factors have gradually eroded farmers' confidence in making a living from farming.
The second factor I should mention is the farmers' reluctance to apply advanced technology to agricultural production. There is a tendency among young Vietnamese farmers to leave their native villages to look for work in the cities.
A third factor is the fragmented production practices of our farmers. This has led to low quality products, yet production costs remain high. As a result, farmers are being left behind in the national process of international integration.
Finally, farmers should be main beneficiaries from the Government's agricultural development subsidization policy, but in reality they seem to benefit the least. A major share of the subsidies appear to go to enterprises rather than to farmers.
Many people say that farmers are suffering the most from the slow growth in agricultural production. Do you agree?
I'm sorry to say that our farmers have gradually lost their cultural inner creativity in pursuit of purely material benefits. As a result, quite a few have ignored the moral principles of food safety for consumers. The age old tradition of good neighbourly relations has been eroded as young farmers increasingly focus on living the good life.
That's not all, the gap between rich and poor has continued to increase over time. Before 1986, the gap between the rich and the poor was about 3.5 times, but now it has jumped to 10.2 times.
If the government adopts a more comprehensive policy on agricultural investment, will agriculture production again become a primary national industry?
Absolutely! This is totally in line with Resolution No.7 of the 10th Party Central Committee Congress. Under that resolution, agricultural development would increase 2.5 times every five years. To achieve that goal, it is important for us to find workable solutions to raise our social investment in agricultural development.
In my opinion, mechanisms, policies and resource allocation should all be focused on helping small farmers to develop their production. In particular, post harvest conservation and processing technology, market information and trade marks, and the linkage between production and consumption should all be developed.
What should the government focus on in their support of farmers?
I think that the government should focus on three areas: science and technology; food safety, market information and prices; and market expansion, particularly in high value markets like Europe, the USA, South Korea and Japan.
In its policy of agricultural restructuring, the government should focus more on adjusting the agricultural development master plan, basing it upon the strengths and weaknesses of each region and their specific ecology.
In addition, the government should assist farmers in applying more advanced technologies in processing and supporting industries. They should also be organizsing technical training workshops for farmers, particularly in cultivation, husbandry and agricultural processing.
Finally, the entire party and government have to try hard to turn the Resolution 7 of the 10th Party Central Committee Congress in 2006 into a reality, i.e. by the year 2020, a farmer's income should increase to 2.5 times that of 2008, with rising incomes being maintained into the future. This would provide a firm foundation on which to improve our farmers' livelihoods, their legal knowledge and democracy. — VNS