Minister Lê Minh Hoan. VNA/VNS Photo
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Lê Minh Hoan spoke with Tuổi Trẻ (Youth) Newspaper about the need to change Việt Nam’s agricultural production, saying it is necessary that related parties work together in the spirit of cooperating and associating.
The Ministry has set up a working group to support the Mekong Delta to solve the bottleneck of selling agricultural products amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Does the ministry have any specific strong direction to better deal with output for agricultural products in the western region?
As requested by the Prime Minister, the ministry established a permanent working group in Hồ Chí Minh City, led by a deputy minister, and coordinated daily with the working group of the Ministry of Industry and Trade to organise many online working sessions with 19 localities that are implementing social distancing according to the Government’s directive 16.
The working group also went to localities to handle problems in harvesting, operations of processing, circulation and distribution enterprises. The group's activities have helped remove many difficulties for farmers and businesses in the context of the complicated developments of the pandemic and the application of different regulations between localities.
Currently, the consumption of agricultural products, especially rice in the Mekong Delta has basically been resolved, the price of rice has inched up from VNĐ300-500 (up to US$0.013) per kg. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will continue to closely monitor and gather information on output and the upcoming harvest season, especially rice in the Mekong Delta region.
Farmers face consumption difficulties not only during the pandemic but for also many years now. Agricultural products and fruits, such as mango and longan of the Mekong Delta, are just as good compared to other places, but why is consumption always a problem?
The consumption of agricultural products of the Mekong Delta in recent years has faced cyclical difficulties. The causes are many, but problems can be drawn. Firstly, when the price of agricultural products in the previous season is good, the next season farmers often expand the cultivation area, leading to an imbalance of supply and demand. Secondly, poor transport infrastructure also hinders consumption.
Thirdly, local farmers and leaders have not paid sufficient attention to the market mindset, most localities only focus on production.
Fourthly, localities in the Mekong Delta have many similar agricultural products, but they have not been able to build the images of the locality that is associated with a certain product, like Hải Dương lychee, Bắc Giang lychee or Hưng Yên longan. That leads to the reality that no provinces focus on trade promotion for a specific agricultural product, but each province works on their own.
The facts show that while affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, recently some northern localities have done very well with output for agricultural products, such as Bắc Giang Province with lychee. As the "commander" of the agriculture sector, what do you advise provinces and cities in the Mekong Delta to learn from such experience?
Because there are many localities in the Mekong Delta with similar agricultural products such as mango, longan, pangasius, shrimp, etc., provinces in the region need to think about connecting with one another in production and market promotion. Localities’ leaders need to sit down and come up with a joint scenario and joint activities. At that time, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will coordinate with the Ministry of Industry and Trade and related ministries to support the connection with domestic distribution systems and foreign importers.
Many experts believe that the reason why agricultural products in the Mekong Delta have not reached further markets is that the localities and farmers are not good at marketing and that the agricultural sector also does not provide much support to farmers?
That is completely true and also reflects the "agricultural production" mindset that still dominates the agricultural industry. When switching to an agricultural economy mindset, they need to think about the consumption market right at the beginning of the production season and not wait for the rice to ripen or the fruit to start harvest, before finding traders and consumption markets.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is guiding localities to identify growing areas in order to have full data on production scale, season, and harvest time to proactively connect with the market. When there is enough information and requests from localities, the ministry and the Ministry of Industry and Trade will coordinate with localities to organise market connections and trade promotion. But again, like the northern provinces, the provinces in the Mekong Delta need to actively cooperate with each other in promotional events and trade promotion.
In order to better consume agricultural products, where should the agricultural sector of the Mekong Delta provinces start? What should leaders and farmers do?
In order to have events to promote the consumption of agricultural products such as Bắc Giang, Hải Dương, Hưng Yên provinces have been preparing for many years. That is building agricultural product brands associated with local images, thereby promoting local specialities, building identification codes of growing areas associated with traceability, improving agricultural product quality and food safety production, applying VietGAP and GlobalGAP standards.
They have also been applying post-harvest technology to ensure the quality of agricultural products in long-term transportation conditions as required by consumers and foreign importers. When I visited Bắc Giang, Hải Dương, and Hưng Yên, I noticed that farmers' perceptions changed a lot. People are not only interested in the output but also in the quality, following the instructions on the use of fertilisers of the agricultural industry and the recommendations of the consuming enterprises. There is no other way. The agricultural sector and farmers in the Mekong Delta provinces need to immediately approach the way of these provinces.
When you were the secretary of Đồng Tháp Province’s Party Committee and now a minister, you had always opposed the idea of "rescuing" agricultural products for farmers and expressed your concerns about sustainable agricultural production. So how have you been directing the sector in regard to this matter?
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is developing and will submit to the Government the "Strategy for sustainable agricultural and rural development for the period of 2021-2025, with a vision to 2030". In this strategy, in order to move towards the sustainability of agriculture, it needs the participation of three components: specialised state agencies, agricultural enterprises and farmers.
I would like to state that in order to go for sustainability, there needs to be a change in perception from policy-making agencies, enterprises leading the market and farmers who produce agricultural products themselves.
In the immediate future, there’s a need to connect agricultural product supply data in each region, localities need to actively connect with consumer associations and industry associations. The ministry also continues to negotiate to expand foreign markets, include more agricultural products in negotiations through multilateral and bilateral trade agreements.
However, as I have repeatedly wanted to tell farmers, we must change together. We won’t be able to change the curse of a "small, spontaneous" production if we do not have the spirit of cooperation and association. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is the policy making agency, negotiating to find the market, while enterprises play a leading role, but it is farmers who produce agricultural products for the market. — VNS