HCM CITY — The agriculture sector has been Viet Nam's buoy in times of economic crisis, but it has not received commensurate attention or investment, says Dang Kim Son, head of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development.
Farmers harvest rice in Thoai Son District, in southern An Giang Province. The country's investment in agriculture is low compared to other countries, experts say. — VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue
The sector's crucial role as a crisis mitigator has been demonstrated several times, including in the late 1980s, late 1990s and in 2000, Son told the Thoi Bao Kinh Te Sai Gon (Sai Gon Economic Times) magazine.
It has helped the country ensure jobs, control inflation and reduce the trade deficit, which were three very important factors in maintaining macroeconomic stability, he said.
However, Viet Nam's investment in the agriculture sector was low compared to other countries and its investment structure was weak, he added.
"We need investment in science, technology, agriculture extension and human resources training, but investing in the agriculture sector so far has focused on constructing (infrastructure) facilities," Son said.
The issue was not just increasing investment but giving in assigning priority and investing effectively, because the Government did not have much money to invest in the agriculture sector.
He said the task of accumulating land for agricultural production and creating jobs for farmers during the country's industrialisation process - Viet Nam has targeted becoming an industrialised country by 2020 needed to be implemented in a much better fashion.
Recently, people in several provinces in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, the country's rice granary, have accumulated land for production, raising concerns about the appearance of a new class of new landowners who exploit farmers.
Son said besides land regulations, the country's political and legal systems can prevent new landlords from exploiting farmers.
But the developing of farms in special agriculture zones in the Cuu Long Delta, Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) and southwestern regions was the most effective way to raise production, he said.
He stressed that before allowing the accumulation of agricultural land, the Government needed to solve the issue of finding sustainable employment for workers in the sector.
The agricultural land holding per household in Viet Nam is very small at about 0.7-0.8ha.
In the southern part of the country, if farmers were allowed to accumulate land and obtain land-use rights for longer periods than currently regulated, the possibility that land was accumulated for increasing production becomes more likely, Son said.
"Meanwhile, in the northern part, the situation of land accumulation becomes more difficult and complicated when farmers leave their homes to work in urban areas but are not able to officially enter the labour market there," he further said.
In urban areas, farmers do jobs like xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers, porters, domestic helpers and construction workers. None of these jobs have a labour contract and they can be fired any time.
In the north, farmers hold on to their land at all costs, in case they are fired, leaving their land vacant without production and unused by people who are actually involved in agriculture production.
"Accumulation of agricultural land can only be implemented successfully when farmers can officially enter the labour market," Son said.
In other countries and territories like South Korea and Taiwan, it took 15-20 years to complete this process while other countries like Thailand and the Philippines have not finished it after several decades, he said.
"Countries and territories that can do this task well will be able to reach the industrialisation goal successfully, and those who fail will fall into the middle-income trap," he said.
"The lives of Vietnamese people in rural areas have improved significantly but the gap between rural and urban areas is still large. When rural areas take one step forward, urban areas have taken two or three steps," Son added.
"The problem is that progress in rural areas is too slow compared the efforts farmers put in." — VNS