|Global GAP standards are applied at this tra fish farm in the Mekong Delta's Tra Vinh Province. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue
HA NOI (VNS)— The ASEAN Economic Community in 2015 will allow Viet Nam's agriculture sector to enter new markets, and farmers and producers will need to prepare to face harsher competition from abroad, Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat has said.
At a question-and-answer session for farmers hosted by members of the National Assembly's Economics Committee this week, Phat said the sector grew 3.9 per cent in 2014 and total export volume reached US$30.86 billion in 2014. But despite these facts, farmers remain poor.
Viet Nam's agriculture products are often seen as being of low-quality, due to a lack of applied technology and loose farm-to-market linkage, participants said.
The Government has been using tax incentives to push more firms to invest in agriculture, as it sees the need for sector-wide improvement.
Reasons for farmers' low incomes despite overall sector growth could include their struggles with rising fertiliser, fuel and pesticide costs, said National Assembly member Tran Du Lich. Dropping prices following bumper harvests have affected profits, as well.
Phat said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development would continue spearheading efforts to connect farmers to markets and establish more organisations to represent farmers.
Regarding the need to build a strong, Vietnamese rice brand, Phat said about 70 types of rice varieties were being used in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, because the country was focusing on diversifying types of rice to increase productivity.
Phat said this needed to be changed. The ministry had been working closely with institutions and scientists to develop sustainable, high-quality rice varieties that could be used more reliably - for 10-year periods - and wouldn't require so much diversity.
When asked about creating policies on aquaculture development, Phat said Decree 67, issued in July, helped fishermen access credit and loans for building or upgrading their boats.
Phat said that by the end of January, more farmers would be able to borrow from banks to build new fishing vessels.
In November, 40 fishermen in Quang Ngai were eligible for loans under Decree 67. The eligible fishermen plan to build 15 iron-covered ships, two composite vessels and 23 wooden boats.
Decree 67 includes basic fishery development policies. It gives fishermen the resources to build high-capacity, iron-covered ships designed for offshore fishing, which can earn them higher incomes.
Commercial banks nationwide have pledged VND14 trillion ($658 million) in loans for organisations and individuals wishing to build new ships or upgrade theirs under Decree 67.
As many as 2,079 new offshore fishing ships and 205 logistics ships will be built under this decree, according to the ministry.
Phat said five new fisheries would also be built in Hai Phong, Da Nang, Khanh Hoa, Ba Ria – Vung Tau and Kien Giang.
At the session, farmers voiced their concerns about black pepper, which has been ravaged by disease in the Central Highlands. Phat said the agriculture ministry started working with the Ministry of Science and Technology to send researchers to help farmers whose crops were affected.
He also said the agriculture sector would have to reassess its policies in another area - forestry. It needed to provide better income for residents working in forestry, he said.
"We have 14 million ha of forests and they have to serve the people, so they can protect them while still generating incomes for themselves," he said.
Nguyen Van Giau, chairman of the National Assembly's Economics Committee, said in his concluding remarks that farmers expected the agriculture minister to turn his promises into actions. — VNS