HCM CITY — Many cashew farmers in the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) have turned their backs on the crop that pulled them out of poverty and switched to others because of declining yields and volatile prices in the last few years.
Though the region remains one of the country's major cashew growing areas, farmers blame ageing trees, diseases, low-quality strains, and unfavourable weather were the major reasons for the fall in yields.
In what is still a poor area, cashews helped many farmers escape poverty and even become prosperous Hung Huy, a farmer in Dak Nong Province's Dak Min District who has cut down his three-hectare cashew orchard to grow coffee, said: "In recent years my annual yield fell relentlessly from three tonnes of nut per hectare to 1.5 tonnes and then to a few hundred kilograms."
The trees' age and diseases were the major causes, he said.
Dieu Hen of Dak R'Lap District, which has the largest area under cashew in Dak Nong Province, has cut down more than half of his 5ha cashew orchard to grow other plants.
Until 2007 the weather had been favourable and cashew suffered less from diseases, so he harvested 14 tonnes a year.
The price of the nuts was also high and his family earned profits of more than VND300 million (US$14,000) a year to escape poverty and become wealthy.
However, in recent years, when the cashew crop enters the blossoming period, there are hoarfrost and unseasonable rains, affecting fruit bearing, he said.
The area under cashew in Dak R'Lap has fallen from more than 7,000ha to around 6,000ha now, according to the district Agriculture and Rural Development Bureau.
Pham Quang Vuong, deputy head of the bureau, said many farmers use traditional methods to grow cashew and do not apply modern technologies, leading to poor quality.
Prices have not been stable in the past few years, with dramatic declines in some of them, he said.
At the same time the cost of inputs like fertilisers, pesticides, and labour have increased, leaving many farmers with bad losses, he said.
In 2001 the Gia Lai Province People's Committee decided to increase the area under cashew in Krong Pa District to 10,000ha. But the district only has 4,597ha, mostly in Uar, Ia Rsai, and Chu Rcam communes.
Dinh Xuan Duyen, head of the Krong Pa Agriculture and Rural Development Bureau, said: "Only Uar still has a large area under cashew (930ha), and many farmers are no longer interested in cashew."
The Central Highlands has around 83,900ha of cashew, down 20,700ha from 2010, according to official statistics.
To improve yields and prevent the cashew cultivation area from shrinking, the Dak Nong Province Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has implemented several measures, including zoning the cultivation area for up to 2015.
It has also instructed its district-level offices to consult local authorities and make plans to help cashew farmers make over their orchards, including by providing high-quality strains to replace old ones.
Gia Lai Province plans to have 25,000ha under cashew by 2015 compared to 20,000ha now.
The Gia Lai People's Committee has ordered a review of the situation to undertake measures to improve cashew strains.
It has also encouraged and create favourable conditions for cashew processors to sign purchase contracts with farmers.
The Gia Lai Research and Experimental Centre for Irrigation and Agriculture and Forestry has researched into ways to increase yields in the major cashew-growing districts of Krong Chro, Krong Pa and Ia Grai. — VNS