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Salt farmers face life post-cooperative

Update: May, 28/2005 - 00:00

Salt farmers face life post-cooperative


Le Nguyen Chuong, deputy general director of the Viet Nam Salt Corporation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, spoke with Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today) newspaper about the current state of the country’s salt industry.

What is the current standard of living of salt farmers?

In the past, the salt industry was supported by subsidised cooperatives, with the farmers managing their businesses and selling salt to these organisations, but despite this help they were still very poor.

When the cooperatives disbanded, they were replaced by enterprises whose dealings were directly linked to the salt market. This system has proved more profitable for the salt producers, who can live comfortably if they are connected with the right companies.

Are their lives more difficult than those of producers in other sectors?

Definitely! Salt farmers work very hard but receive comparatively little reward for their efforts.

During an inspection of a salt field in the central province of Ha Tinh, former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet said: "I realise that salt farmers are a unique subgroup of society, one that has been forgotten for many years."

He pointed out that Viet Nam’s salt producers have always suffered from low investment in their industry, as well as problems caused by low salt prices, which mean that sometimes they struggle to sell even a good crop.

How does your company help the farmers?

So far, we have spent around VND70 billion (US$4.4 million) helping salt farmers build roads, bridges, dykes and irrigation works.

Although we sometimes have difficulty supplying the necessary capital, we try our best to invest in and build facilities to boost the salt industry, because this cements co-operative ties with the producers.

What about purchasing salt?

We are currently buying around 40 per cent of salt produced by the farmers, with a target to buy 65 per cent by 2010. The rest of the salt will be sold to enterprises and other economic sectors.

However, buying alone is not enough. We must be able to give them a reasonable price, and to achieve this government intervention is necessary - the State should co-ordinate the policies of ministries and other sectors to stabilise the salt price. There should also be other measures, such as supplying us with capital to buy unsold salt if the farmers are struggling at a particular time.

Your company has been producing increasing amounts of purified salt. What is the market for this?

We usually export between 20-30,000 tonnes of purified salt annually, although sometimes this figure is much higher - in one year, we exported 100,000 tonnes, to Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan.

Viet Nam’s purified salt is a potentially major export product, since it retains many of the positive properties of sea salt. If we can harness the economic potential of this product - it sells for around VND800,000 ($50) per tonne, about VND300,000 more than the price of normal salt - we can improve the living standards of salt farmers.

Do you intend to increase purified salt production levels?

Thanh Hoa Salt, one of our member companies, is working with co-operatives and salt farmers to apply new technologies for the production of purified salt, and we are encouraging other member companies in Nam Dinh, Nghe An and some southern provinces to follow suit.

However, this product has its limitations. The export totals are still relatively low, we often encounter reluctance from farmers to apply the new production methods, and the high price of the salt means that there is little demand for it on the domestic market.

What can be done to overcome these difficulties?

Every year, the Government spends hundreds of billions of Dong on the salt sector, but the low returns the industry produces means that the State cannot tax farmers.

We have recently submitted a development strategy for this sector to the Government, which should both improve the lives of farmers and provide the State with tax revenue. We propose that spending is increased to allow producers to build more salt stores and production stations, and also to allow the company to buy all of the salt produced. If these policies are applied, it should increase the profits of salt producers and thereby allow the State to obtain tax revenue. — VNS

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