Director of the Department of Trade and Processing for Agricultural Products and Salt Production Le Xuan spoke to Viet Nam News about measures to modernise the sector.
The salt industry has ex-perienced some ups and downs in recent years that have resulted in redundancies and losses to the State budget. What were the reasons for this?
I think the main cause of the problem in recent years was that the salt price remained stable at about VND1,000 (US$0.05) a kilo. Initially, the price was attractive to labourers so lots of those working in the aquacultural sector moved to harvesting salt on self-made farms. However, they could not produce salt in industrial quantities because they did not use the necessary technology.
By August of this year, the total salt field area was 15,200ha, 700ha more than the target. However, there are only 2,500ha of salt field devoted to producing industrial salt – 42 per cent of the target. Industrial salt production reached just 300,000 tonnes this year – 37.5 per cent of the target.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Decision 161/QD-TTg/2007 on developing the salt industry set a target of 14,500ha in 2010, of which 6,000ha would be for industrial salt. That would have increased salt output by 1.5 million tonnes, of which 800,000 tonnes would have been industrial salt.
Salt production is also weather dependent.
Making matters worse, there is very little capital for upgrading infrastructure and expanding salt fields. From 2007 until now the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) approved nine projects worth VND327 billion ($17.2 million). However, only projects worth up to VND52 billion ($2.7 million) have been implemented.
What can local authorities, agricultural and industrial agencies do about the problem?
MARD is co-ordinating with the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MIT) to balance supply and demand.
In 2009, the ministry bought 35,000 tonnes of salt to stockpile. This year MARD bought 200,000 tonnes, which pushed the salt price up. As a result, salt workers' earnings improved. Each worker in the north now has an average income of VND8-10 million ($420-525) a year. In the south, they earn VND10-15 million ($525-790) a year.
However, salt production is still backward because there has been little investment in technology, manpower training and scientific research.
What should MARD do to step up industrial salt production?
First of all, we should invest in expanding industrial salt fields in the central provinces, especially those areas that have favourable climatic conditions, including Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and Khanh Hoa in central Viet Nam.
MARD and the authorities in Ninh Thuan have encouraged the Ha Long Investment and Development Company to invest in building the 3,100ha Quan The industrial salt zone. The zone will produce different kinds of salt that reach international standards. Production will meet 70 per cent of domestic salt demand.
MARD and MIT have asked the Viet Nam National Chemical Industry Group and a number of enterprises to buy domestic rather than import salt.
On the other hand, I think the State should introduce a minimum price for salt to ensure 30-40 per cent of profits go to the workers. It should also invest in building infrastructure for salt fields. — VNS