|Farmers harvest corn in the Mekong Delta region. The conversion of low-yielding rice fields into land growing high-value cash crops has helped farmers around the country improve their earnings, but the pace of change has been slow. — Photo nongnghiepvietnam.vn
HCM CITY (VNS) — The conversion of low-yielding rice fields into land growing high-value cash crops has helped farmers around the country improve their earnings, but the pace of change has been slow, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Last year rice farmers in the north switched to more lucrative crops like vegetables, corn, soy bean and sesame on more than 17,100ha.
Many cash crops yield earnings of VND400-500 million (US$19,000–23,800) per hectare a year, or five to 10 times the income from rice, the ministry said.
The south-central coast and the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) region converted more than 10,200ha last year.
In the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, the country's rice granary, farmers switched to cash crops on 78,000ha last year and earned 20-30 per cent higher profits than from rice.
Of the delta's converted areas, vegetables account for 24,000ha; water melon, 16,000ha; corn, 15,000ha; sesame, 13,000ha; and other crops for the rest area.
Can Tho city, Dong Thap, Long An, An Giang, and Tien Giang provinces in the delta have converted large areas.
However, the process of switching has been slow in the delta because of certain difficulties, according to local agriculture officials, who listed reasons like lack of stable outlets and price volatility.
Cao Van Hoa, deputy director of the Tien Giang Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said farmers seeking to replace rice with cash crops in low-yield fields have to first confirm demand.
With every province getting in on the act, supply could exceed demand, he warned.
Farmers can store rice they cannot sell but not vegetables, he pointed out.
The Government agreed to provide financial support of VND2 million per hectare in 2014-15 for delta farmers to buy corn, sesame, soy bean, peanut, water melon, and vegetables seeds for growing in low-yield rice fields.
However, many provinces in the delta are yet to benefit because of the lengthy procedures involved, which has been acting as a drag on the conversion.
The Government should soon provide funds, Hoa said.
"The Government should extend the [programme] to encourage farmers to grow cash crops in low-yield rice fields."
The delta plans to grow cash crops on 80,000ha of such lands this year.
Ma Quang Trung, head of the ministry's Plant Cultivation Department, said the ministry targets conversion of 700,000-800,000ha nation-wide by 2020.
"The ministry is instructing provinces to draft detail plans … and upgrade irrigation systems to serve the conversion."
The ministry has also petitioned the Government to provide similar support to farmers in the north, south-central coast and Tay Nguyen, he said. — VNS