by Xuan Huong
|A female farmer dries her cacao to serve the processing factory in the sourthern province of Ben Tre's Long Thanh.— VNA/VNS Photo Dinh Hue
HCM CITY (VNS)— Increasing global demand for cocoa beans, especially fermented ones, augurs well for the industry in Viet Nam, delegates said at a forum in HCM City Thursday.
The country has suitable climate and soil for cocoa cultivation, experts noted, expressing confidence that inter-cropping the beans with coconut and cashew gardens would increase farmers' incomes.
This, in turn, would ensure effective development of areas under all three crops, officials of the Department of Crop Production said.
Although cocoa was introduced to Viet Nam way back in 1950, it was only about 10 years ago that cocoa plantations began to prosper with the total output reaching about 6,700 tonnes of dried beans a year.
The area under cocoa has increased from 9,000ha in 2007 to more than 22,000ha now, mainly in the Central Highlands, south-eastern and Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces.
Export has given a boost to local cocoa production, with nearly 3,000 tonnes of fermented cocoa beans exported last year.
Pham Dong Quang, deputy director general of the department, said, "Demand for cocoa in the world market has risen so strongly in recent years that current increases in world output cannot keep lace. In many major producing countries, production has shrunk dramatically due to climate change impacts, offering Viet Nam an opportunity."
Agreeing with Quang, Cas Van Der Horst, Deputy Head of Mission at the Netherlands Embassy in Viet Nam, said that with surging demand for cocoa in Asia and shrinking production in West African and other countries, there will be a shortfall of about 1 million tonnes in the world market by 2020.
This presents a great opportunity for Viet Nam to become one of major cocoa suppliers in the world, he said.
However, he cautioned that the industry must focus more on improving productivity and quality if it is to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Netherlands government and other organisations have supported Viet Nam to develop its cocoa industry through a Public Private Partnership project, he said.
The project, expected to continue until 2014, will lay the foundations for the future development of Viet Nam's cocoa industry, he said.
Quang said the project would help Viet Nam develop its cocoa industry in a sustainable manner both in terms of volume and quality, contributing to meeting the target of having 33,500ha under cocoa cultivation by 2015 and 50,000ha by 2020.
While there was agreement on its growth potential, some contradictions were apparent in the analysis of challenges facing the cocoa industry in Viet Nam.
The usual stock reasons of small-scale production, lack of qualified technical staff, low productivity and weak linkages in the cocoa value chain were mentioned at the forum.
Several participants pointed out that farmers were still reluctant to plant cocoa because they lacked the experience, compared to cultivation of other crops.
Dinh Hai Lam, Viet Nam Cocoa Development Manager for Mars Incoporated, said that given small-scale farming and stiff competition with other crops, cocoa cultivation in Viet Nam must follow the intensive farming model to ensure high productivity while maintaining quality.
"If Viet Nam produces low quality cocoa, Vietnamese cocoa must compete with Indonesian cocoa in prices."
Furthermore, Viet Nam has to find measures to meet with increasing demand of global consumers for evidence of sustainable and socially responsible production, he said.
Phan Huy Thong, head of the Viet Nam Cocoa Committee, said they would co-operate with relevant agencies and localities to review zoning plans for cocoa cultivation with a view to ensuring sustainable development of the industry.
The committee will work with the Department of Crop Production and other agencies to recommend appropriate policies to the Government, especially to support farmer in intercropping cocoa with other suitable crops.
The forum was organised by the Department of Crop Production, the Viet Nam Cocoa Committee, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Netherlands Embassy in Viet Nam.
It gathered more than 200 delegates, including Vietnamese cocoa farmers and traders, chocolate manufacturers, government officials, and representatives of international organisations. — VNS