|Local farmers show scientists their corn field in the Mekong Delta's Long An Province. Positive resultshave been recorded in the initial phase of a pilot project to cultivate corn on large-scale farms in the province. — VNA/VNS Photo Van Khanh
LONG AN (VNS)— The initial phase of a pilot project to cultivate corn on large-scale farms in the Mekong Delta province of Long An's Duc Hoa District, where the soil is unfavourable for rice cultivation, has yielded positive results for farmers.
The project on 100ha in three communes of Long An's Duc Hoa District will be expanded to 500ha next year and to 2,500 ha by 2018 in areas more suitable for growing corn.
As a result of the project's success, a drying factory with a capacity of 28-tonne batches, opened in the province's Duc Hoa District near the corn fields. The factory will expand to 2,500 square metres in the near future.
Ecofarm, the Vietnamese company that owns the factory, provides crop strains, agricultural materials and technical support in seeding and harvesting for the project.
The province has also been working with Ecofarm and the State, scientists, enterprises and farmers on sustainable development, which is part of the Government's national agricultural initiative.
Nguyen Minh Triet, general director of Ecofarm, said the drying factory was built to create a self-contained production chain and help improve the quality of agricultural products. He noted that some of the province's elevated areas were not suitable for rice cultivation.
Tran Thi Huyen Nga, a farmer in Duc Hoa District's Tan Phu Commune, who has been participating in the large-scale corn cultivation project with Ecofarm, said: "The opening of the drying factory was encouraging news for local farmers. I thought it was impossible."
Before the project began, local farmers were not getting good prices for their crops, he said.
"We get fertiliser from Ecofarm. I see that Ecofarm conducted thorough research about the arable land in the district, so the corn we cultivated grew well. We appreciate the Government and the company allowing us to be involved in the project," Nga said.
The pilot project is part of a Government programme to restructure crop cultivation nationwide.
The large-scale farm model has also been used in several other Mekong Delta provinces where crop cultivation has been shifted to rice.
The Viet Nam Business Challenge Fund (VBCF) provided VND5.3 billion (US$252,000) from 2013 to 2015 to the pilot programme in Long An Province.
Nguyen Hong Quang, Ecofarm Company's chairman, said: "Many people advised me to not work with farmers because there would be many difficulties, but I see there is great opportunity. The question in my mind is what could happen if millions more farmers were able to connect with enterprises, scientists and local governments and create a value production chain?"
Quang, speaking to 60 representative farmers from Mekong Delta provinces, said he hoped that many more farmers could prosper from this kind of model.
Vu Tuan Anh, manager of VBCF, said the organisation supported a total of 21 projects similar to the Ecofarm project.
The Ecofarm project not only focused on sustainable development by improving incomes of farmers, but also created conditions for environmentally friendly products and further green development in Viet Nam, he said.
"We hope the new factory will produce more added value for farmers who are participating in the project. The model is considered a launching platform for Ecofarm to expand the project in Long An and other provinces in the Mekong Delta," Tuan Anh said.
The project would also focus on the post-harvesting process, a weak link in agricultural production in the country. The Ecofarm factory, for example, has helped farmers a great deal during post-harvest, he added.
Dr. Nguyen Dang Nghia, director of the Southern Centre for Soil, Fertiliser and Environment Research, said there had been several agricultural production models in Viet Nam but few were like the large-scale cultivation model.
Nghia, who has conducted research on soil and fertilisers for 40 years, said he was concerned that Viet Nam, with such a strong agricultural base, had to import a huge amount of corn and soya for production every year.
Even though Viet Nam had a high volume of exports, its weakest area continued to be post-harvest process technology, Nghia said.
Demand for corn
Nguyen Tuong Linh, assistant vice president of the Feed Ingredients Trading Business Group of C.P. Vietnam Livestock Corporation, said that animal-feed producers must buy more than one million tonnes of corn and 40 per cent of the amount must be imported.
"Our factory's demand for corn is huge. Currently, domestic farmers produce two million tonnes of corn, but our factory buys one million. Household production does not meet the required standard," Linh told Viet Nam News.
The animal feed producer, which is part of the Thai-owned C.P. Group, has eight factories nationwide that use one million tonnes of corn every year. It imports 300,000 tonnes of corn a year.
The import demand for corn to produce feed has increased annually by 18 per cent in recent years. By 2020, the country will need an annual 5.7 million tonnes.
Relying heavily on imported resources leads to high prices for animal feed.
Between 2014 and 2015, the Government plans to convert 150,000ha from rice paddy fields to corn cultivation.
Dr. Nghia said he expected the large-scale cultivation model to be used by other enterprises for trees such as coffee and pepper, which were grown in the Central Highlands and other regions in the country. — VNS