|A farmer dries cocoa at a factory of Puratos Grand-Place Vietnam in Ben Tre Province's Giao Long Industrial Zone. Large cocoa buying and processing firms should offer reasonable prices to encourage farmers to grow cocoa. — VNA/VNS Photo The Anh
BEN TRE (VNS)— A series of measures to develop the cocoa industry in the Cuu Long (Mekong) River Delta were proposed at a seminar held in Ben Tre Province on Thursday.
Phan Thi Thu Suong, deputy director of the Ben Tre Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said the area under cocoa in the province has plummeted.
Volatile prices and low productivity due to poor farming practices and limited use of technology were to blame for farmers chopping down cacao trees for other crops, she said.
Le Thi Phi Van, a cocoa researcher, said around 30 per cent of the cacao-growing area in Ben Tre was not nurtured while another 40 per cent suffered due to improper farming techniques.
The failure to balance various fertilisers had affected yields, she said.
Despite being an auxiliary plant, cacao trees needed proper caring in the form of irrigation and fertilisers, she said.
Nguyen Vinh Thanh, cocoa sourcing manager for Cargill Viet Nam, said global demand had outstripped supply for the last three years, and this was expected to continue.
Demand, especially from China, India, and Indonesia, had surged while the area under cultivation had not increased, and offered the cocoa industry in Ben Tre a good opportunity, he said.
Nguyen Van Hoa, deputy director of the Crop Production Department, said Ben Tre had suitable conditions for growing cacao and intercropping it with coconut would result in higher profits for farmers.
Since cacao was still a relatively new crop in Viet Nam, more research needed to be done to come up with better cultivation techniques to improve efficiency, he said.
More agricultural extension programmes to teach farmers the skills and techniques needed for growing, harvesting, and processing cocoa were required, delegates at the seminar agreed, as were close links between various stake holders.
Each area should draw up its own plans for cacao farming, they said.
Scientists and agricultural research institutes should focus on creating new high-quality strains and measures to prevent and control pests and diseases, they said.
Huynh Quang Duc, deputy director of the Ben Tre Agriculture Extension Centre, said large cocoa buying and processing firms should offer reasonable prices to encourage farmers to grow cacao.
Hoa said information about farming techniques, markets, and Government policies needed to be transmitted promptly and precisely to the cocoa community to enable them to understand and feel secure about growing the crop.
Cocoa bean prices in the domestic market have increased from VND45,000 (US$2.1) per kilogramme late last year to VND55,000-VND59,000 ($2.5-2.7) now.
Ngo Van Bu, a farmer in Chau Binh Commune in Ben Tre's Giong Trom District, said intercropping with his one hectare of coconut had improved his income substantially.
"Earnings from cocoa match that from coconut, and I did not need to hire people to harvest cocoa as I do with coconut," he told Viet Nam News.
But without much experience in growing cacao, farmers remain wary.
According to Hoa, the quality of cocoa grown in the province is rated among the best in Asia, persuading many large cocoa buyers and processors to set up business there.
The seminar was held as part of the Viet Nam – Netherlands Public Private Partnership for sustainable cocoa development, whose members include the Vietnamese and Dutch governments, Rabobank, Mars Incorporated, and Cargill.
The project is aimed at improving the lives of cacao farmers and their families and ensuring the long-term sustainability of cacao farming. — VNS