Floods in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta are leaving behind a layer of alluvium, Dr Le Van Banh of the Mekong Rice Research Institute told Viet Nam News.
What is your forecast for the upcoming winter-spring crop?
Mekong farmers, who are scheduled to sow over 1.5 million ha of land for the winter-spring crop in mid-November, have favourable conditions for this crop. The major flood in 2011 that followed minor ones the previous years is expected to bring alluvium to fertilise the soil, desalinate rice fields and exterminate pests. Meanwhile, the current paddy prices of VND7,000-7,400 per kilogramme are encouraging farmers to take better care of their rice fields.
These favourable conditions are necessary for a promising harvest during the 2011-12 winter – spring crop.
What should be done by farmers to ensure a bumper winter – spring crop 2011 – 12?
Flood waters are receding in the upper provinces while the tidal flow is raising water levels in the lower provinces of Mekong River.
The [local] agriculture departments have recommended that farmers should work the soil, making it ready to sow, by the end of December at the latest after the waters recede.
Rice seeds should be directly sowed to avoid bugs and pests. Suitable rice varieties should be chosen depending on the condition of the soil in each locality, especially in Dong Thap Muoi (Plain of Reeds), Long Xuyen Quadrilateral, and coastal areas.
The area under high-quality rice varieties will account for 70 per cent of the total area under rice during the winter-spring crop, and fragrant rice and ordinary rice for 15 per cent each.
With an average yield of six to 6.5 tonnes per ha, the 2011-12 winter-spring crop will yield 10 to 11 million tonnes of paddy for the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta. Better preparation from the agriculture sector and farmers would offer higher yields and production in the coming winter-spring crop.
What should be done to develop a brand for Viet Nam's rice?
Viet Nam has many good rice varieties but only sells its white rice in the world market. The small scale of production, failure to simultaneously start the crop and plant a single variety resulting in uneven rice quality are major weaknesses of the agriculture sector.
To improve the rice quality and build a strong brand for Viet Nam's rice, traditional rice farming practices must be changed. Rice fields in Mekong provinces must be converted into large-scale paddy fields with simultaneous sowing and harvesting that will enable farmers to better tend their fields, combat pests and diseases, and mechanise their farming.
Farmers should be instructed to grow rice based on the Viet GAP (Vietnamese Good Agriculture Practice) and Global GAP standards.
Several large rice fields that have been established and cover some 10,000 ha in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta have reported encouraging achievements, including lower production costs, higher yields and better rice quality, and good consumption networks.
Following these achievements, the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta is expected to increase the large-scale rice area to 20,000-30,000 ha during this winter-spring crop. The figures will increase to 100,000 ha in 2012-13 and 500,000 ha in 2015.
The development of the large-scale rice field model will help boost high-quality rice production, thus making it easier to develop a brand for Vietnamese rice.
What is businesses' role in developing large-scale rice fields?
Businesses are playing an important role. However, to make it a success, businesses are encouraged to join it by establishing consumer networks for farmers' produce and providing farmers with the materials required for large-scale production.
The Government should adopt policies to assist businesses in building warehouses for rice storage and provide them loans to develop large-scale rice fields.
What are your recommendations for helping farmers enrich themselves through farming?
The profits from rice exports have been unequally distributed. Farmers who actually grow rice get smaller profits than traders and exporters.
On the other hand, it is very difficult for them to get rich through the present small-scale production model. For example, a family that has a ha of land and grows two crops a year can harvest 10 tonnes of paddy. With production costs accounting for five tonnes, their profit per year is five tonnes worth VND30 million (US$1,430). That amount cannot help a five-member family take care of education, health care, and other costs.
However, many families in the Plain of Reeds and Long Xuyen Quadrilateral have 20 to 50 ha of land under rice each. Using the large-scale production model and advanced farming techniques, dozens of them have made themselves billionaires. — VNS