Conference examines threats to agriculture
HCM CITY(VNS) — While agricultural production has enormous potential to reduce poverty in rural areas, governments must enact new policies to prevent potential losses of profits as the risks are especially high in this sector, an international conference heard yesterday in HCM City.
Organised by the Forum for Agriculture Risk Management in Development, the conference focused on Asia's rice industry and opportunities for improved risk management.
Viet Nam has achieved remarkable progress in rice production and export, contributing to food supply in some parts of the world, Bui Ba Bong, deputy minister of the agriculture and rural development, said.
At a time when concerns exist about higher food prices worldwide, the country has been able to maintain a high capacity for food production and export.
"With its rapidly growing middle class, developing countries will continue to account for the bulk of incremental global food demand and growing share of world food and agricultural imports," Bong said.
"Hence, much of the growth in world food and agricultural imports will occur in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and this trend could open up great opportunities for agricultural-exporting countries like Viet Nam," he added.
"However, agricultural production is likely to suffer from rising and continued volatility of prices," he added.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the US Department of Agriculture, prices in the medium term are expected to reach historically high levels due to increased demand for grain, oil seeds, livestock products, industrial materials and biofuel programmes, as well as expected high-energy prices.
These higher prices have been caused by more speculative trading in commodity markets.
At the same time, the agricultural sector is also facing growing risks, such as disease, environmental pollution and climate change.
These major risks are threatening incomes of both farmers and business owners.
"Rice is the favoured staple food in most Asian countries. The uncertainties in rice production, market and trade would affect millions of people, particularly small-scale and marginal rice producers and low-income consumers," Bong said.
"Efforts are being made at country and regional levels to minimise uncertainties and risks in the rice sector," he stressed.
Peter Timmer, professor emeritus at Harvard University, told Viet Nam News that Viet Nam's rice sector was facing three categories of risks.
The first - climate change could seriously affect the water supply, especially in the Mekong Delta.
Timmer said the Government had already begun measures to help farmers cope with the changes.
The second risk is the volatility of prices on the world rice market, causing difficulties for the Government, traders and farmers.
Finally, the rice sector in Viet Nam is facing competition from Cambodia, Myanmar and India, particularly in the low-end rice segment.
Myanmar and Cambodia are increasingly providing a cheap supply of rice, as India has done.
"So, Viet Nam has to figure out some ways to move up to higher quality, more value-added rice, or perhaps even get out of the low-end rice market and concentrate on the higher end," he said.
K. L. Heong, principal scientist for insect ecology at the International Rice Research Institute, said that ineffective use of insecticides was causing risks to the country's agricultural sector.
"Farmers react to visible pests, but often the pesticide is not necessary because the plant will recover," he said. "The worst pests are caused by insecticides. So if they can use insecticides once instead of so many times, they will save a lot of money."
Since prices for insecticides are determined by the market, production costs could be lowered by reducing the use of insecticides, which are very expensive.
"In addition, Viet Nam should increase farm size because larger farms are more profitable. More machinery can be used, and the cost of production will go down further," he said.
Participants at the conference also urged governments in Asia to adopt measures to encourage farmers to continue to produce rice.
They called on all stakeholders involved in the rice industry to develop a rice-supply chain in Asia. — VNS