|Farmers in the Mekong province of An Giang's Phu Thuan Commune harvest crops. Machines help address the labour shortage and reduce post-harvest losses. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue
LONG AN (VNS)— The Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta should enhance the use of machines in rice farming to deal with the problem of labour shortage, increase productivity and minimise post-harvest losses and costs, speakers said at a recent forum.
This would ensure better incomes for farmers, they claimed.
The forum, organised by the National Agriculture Extension Centre in Long An Province, focused on the advantages of mechanisation in rice cultivation.
It sought to provide a platform for agricultural officials, scientists, businesses and farmers to discuss measures to speed up mechanisation in rice cultivation in the delta, known as Viet Nam's rice basket.
Dr Mai Thanh Phung, chief of the National Agriculture Extension Centre's representative office in HCM City, said "rice production in the delta, the country's biggest rice basket, has encountered an increasing shortage of labourers, therefore using machines becomes an urgent need."
He claimed that the use of harvesting machines had helped reduce by 50 per cent the cost as well as post-harvest losses, compared to harvesting by hand.
Dr Hoang Quoc Tuan, director of the Agriculture Planning Centre, said mechanisation of rice farming has strongly increased in the delta in the past 10 years, with more and more farmers opting to use machines.
As of last year, the delta had 65,000 tractors, 12,455 harvesters and 42,000 combine-harvesters in addition to thousands of other specialised machines, he said.
The delta is leading the country in the use of machinery for agricultural production; and therefore, its farming efficiency is much higher than other regions, Tuan said.
Many forum participants agreed that mechanisation in agricultural production has strongly increased in the delta, but added that it has not met the region's demand.
Phung said "Among three farming processes where mechanisation needs to be speeded up, only soil preparation for rice cultivation has high a mechanisation rate of about 80-90 per cent in the 13 Mekong Delta provinces, while the use of machines in harvesting and drying remains low."
He said only about 50 per cent of rice fields in the delta were now using machines to harvest the crop, and the rate of mechanisation in drying rice was even lower at around 33 per cent for the summer-autumn crop, causing huge harvesting and post-harvest losses.
According to Le Van Banh, director of the Mekong Delta Rice Research Institute, there are many reasons that limit mechanisation of agricultural production in the delta.
For one, most farming plots remain too small to use machines.
Secondly, the number of machines made in Viet Nam is miniscule compared to demand while imported machines are too expensive for most farmers.
Yet another reason is that farmers have limited knowledge of advanced technology and equipment, which prevents them from using machines.
The Government issued several policies to support farmers to purchase machinery to reduce post-harvest losses, including interest-free loans, but not many farmers took them because, among other reasons, they lacked assets to pledge as collateral, forum participants noted.
They suggested that the Government should review and adjust the policies to enable more farmers to take advantage of them.
It was clear that to speed up mechanisation in agricultural production, many problems would have to be solved, said Phung.
He suggested that localities review their zoning plans, improve infrastructure and irrigation systems, and establish large-scale farms to facilitate the use of machinery in agricultural production.
"Agricultural machinery manufacturers should conduct more research and provide the market with better suited combine-harvesters and dryers to speed up their use, contributing to significant reductions in post-harvest losses," he said.
The use of machinery in other farming processes, including sowing seeds, transplanting and watering should also be accelerated, he added.
Banh suggested that local agricultural machinery manufacturers co-operate with foreign counterparts to produce machines suited for the local market, helping reduce prices.
In addition, relevant agencies should strengthen efforts to increase awareness of the advantages of mechanisation in agricultural production and provide farmers with technical training so as they are confident about using machines in their daily work, he said. — VNS