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Rock-bottom vegetable prices hit farmers

Update: March, 07/2014 - 14:51
Farmer Ho Van Tung in Quang Thanh Commune, Thua Thien-Hue Province, uproots some of his vegetables to throw them away. — VNS Photo Phuoc Buu

by Phuoc Buu

THUA THIEN-HUE (VNS) — Quang Dien District is located in the extremely low-lying area of the central Thua Thien - Hue Province.

Thus, the land of the local people is flooded for four months every year, from the lunar month of July to October.

In the lunar month of November, the people start sowing seeds to meet the increasing market demand for vegetables during Tet (Lunar New Year) and the post-Tet months when the prices are high.

But they are in trouble this year because the prices have nearly hit rock-bottom.

"The price for my lettuce now is 5,000 dong for 50 kilogrammes. It is so cheap that I don't want to harvest it for sale," said Tran Van Cu of Thanh Trung village in the district.

"It is painful to sell two big baskets of lettuce over which I spent a lot of effort to grow and harvest them.

The villagers continue to use traditional methods of carrying the vegetables, which involves hanging two baskets on either ends of a pole balanced on the shoulder. Cu gets up at 1am to harvest the lettuce crop so that the trader can transport them to faraway markets by 4 am or 5 am.

He cannot calculate how much loss he has suffered, saying: "The problem now is that I don't have enough money to buy seeds and fertilizers to continue cultivating."

Cu does not want to harvest his crop and lets his lettuce bloom, which means they cannot be used as food anymore. This means that he cannot start cultivating anew on his 0.2hectare field.

Almost all farmers in the village are in trouble because it is an area of intensive vegetable cultivation of lettuce and some herbs.

These are not eaten by pigs so that local people dumped the vegetables as waste. They could not give the vegetables to neighbors too as almost every household in the village has its own vegetable stock.

The people in another village, Tan Thanh, grow the same species of vegetables and they too faced the problem of rock-bottom prices. Tran Thuc, a farmer, said he expected to earn some money for his living but the situation now is bad.

"My efforts were wasted. I got up at 1am waiting for traders, but none stopped for my lettuce," he said. Thuc dumped the lettuce and prepared the land again to cultivate a new lettuce crop, hoping for better prices.

According to Le Quang Tuan, deputy chairman of the People's Committee of Quang Thanh Commune, which includes Thanh Trung and Tan Thanh villages, a total of 65 hectares cultivate vegetables for a yearly revenue of nearly VND13 billion.

"It will be a big problem if the farmers quit cultivation for other jobs," he said.

There are several causes for the low prices and the problem of a "bumper crop leading to falling prices" is right on top.

Viet Nam News investigated and found that a bundle of about three bunches of lettuce, weighing 0.1 kilogramme, costs VND5,000 in the market, which is equal to the cost of two baskets of 50 kilogrammes of lettuce that the traders paid to farmers in the field.

This means the lettuce sold in the market is 500 times more expensive than the lettuce sold in the field.

Another factor for the low prices is the abundance of vegetables in the market. According to sellers in markets around Hue, there have been steady supplies from the Central Highlands' provinces of Da Lat and Gia Lai since Tet.

They were surprised at vegetables being transported from the Central Highlands at a time when supply exceeds demand in Hue. They would not know that in Da Lat, tonnes of vegetables are being fed to cows.

Viet Nam News failed to get a proper explanation from the local market control division as the office did not specify which sections deal with the issue.

Adding to the supply from the other provinces, many villages in the district, which had not been growing vegetables, have began to cultivate them.

"The villages in the neighboring Quang Tho Commune, where flowers are grown to meet the demand during Tet, began to cultivate vegetables too in their flower fields," said Ho Van Tung, a farmer in Thanh Trung village in Quang Thanh Commune.

Tung and other farmers in the village blamed this on the district's agriculture promotion division, which encouraged the flower farmers to grow vegetables along with flowers to make more profit.

The farmers in the commune identified another reason for the abundant vegetable supplies, saying that the evening fog makes the vegetables grow faster and thus many plants turn ripe for harvest at the same time.

Officials at the local agriculture division refused to comment on the factors mentioned by the farmers as well as on measures to be taken to deal with the situation that is hitting the local farmers hard.

The floods this year will give the farmers more nightmares. As usual, they will endure the hardships coming from the two-month or three-month joblessness. They pin their hopes on the dry lunar month of November, when they can start cultivation and expect a profitable crop. But with the fall in prices, the farmers will find it hard to survive the flood season with hope. — VNS

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