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Land under rice should not shrink below 3.8m hectares

Update: February, 03/2012 - 09:01

Nguyen Tri Ngoc, head of the Department of Plant Cultivation, speaks to Sai Gon Giai Phong (Liberated Sai Gon) about retaining 3.8 million hectares of land for rice cultivation to ensure food security.

Why do we need 3.8 million hectares of land for rice cultivation ?

Due to the demand from industrialisation, modernisation, building infrastructure facilities, and socio-economic development, we used large areas of land, including by converting rice fields for use for other purposes.

Meanwhile, the population is increasing every day while land does not, so the land for cultivation is declining. With the population increasing rapidly, there is need to consider the problem of ensuring food security in the long term.

Therefore, the Politburo approved a national food security plan, saying that to ensure food security the country needs 3.8 million hectares under rice by 2020, including 3.2 million hectares for wet-rice cultivation.

The National Assembly has passed a resolution on national land use plan in 2011-20. It has a target of keeping 3.8 million hectares of rice lands.

To implement the resolution, the Prime Minister has assigned the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development two tasks. The first is making a detailed zoning plan of wet rice cultivation areas, and, based on the plan, identifying wet-rice cultivation areas that need to be preserved.

Secondly, after making the detailed zoning plan for wet-rice cultivation, the ministry must draft a decree on managing and using land for rice cultivation with detailed policies for retaining rice fields.

We have finished the detailed zoning plan for wet-rice cultivation and submitted to the Prime Minister for approval. The plan has been made in detail for the provincial, district, and commune levels, and so identifies clearly areas where rice fields must be preserved.

Collection of opinions for a draft decree on managing and using land for rice cultivation, which will replace Decree 69 issued in 2009, has been finished and the decree is waiting for appraisal by the Ministry of Justice.

Besides the detailed zoning plan for rice fields to be retained, the National Assembly resolution on national land-use plans in 2011-20 also requires marking such fields in each commune. Can we do that ?

We now have two plans. Marking rice fields in every commune to identify 3.22 million hectares of land used for growing two wet-rice crops each year. These lands are strictly protected and cannot be converted for other purposes. I think this plan is unfeasible because the area under rice is small and the rice fields are scattered. Besides the markers could be pulled down [by miscreants].

So a feasible plan will be to mark rice fields in red on every commune map. The map will identify which areas must be preserved for growing rice. To retain 3.8 million hectares of land for rice cultivation, every commune map needs to be marked by 2013.

Will there still be a situation where provincial authorities convert rice fields for other uses?

To prevent this, I think it is needed to ensure that provincial administrations do not have the authority to convert rice farms, and that only the central government [does].

The Prime Minister will decide on the conversion of paddies that yield two rice crops a year and measure less than 30ha. The National Assembly will decide in case of more than 30ha.

In case of other rice fields, the Prime Minister will decide if the area is less than 50ha and the National Assembly for more than 50ha.

Only by implementing these regulations can provinces be stopped from finding loopholes to convert rice fields as they did before.

Currently, the country has 4.1 million hectares of paddies. For carrying national plans through 2020, we must ensure there is enough land for other purposes like roads, tourism areas, urban areas, schools, and cultural centres.

We still allow the conversion of rice fields to meet the demand for socio-economic development and construction of infrastructure, but we encourage this only in areas that do not have the advantage of farming rice.

We are determined to retain 3.8 million hectares of rice paddies.

Many localities, especially provinces in the Hong (Red) Delta and Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, want to keep the area at 3.6 million hectares because they cannot earn enough revenues from only rice. What do you think ?

It is true that in localities with large areas under rice cultivation, public revenue is limited, affecting their spending and investment for development.

Therefore, for these localities to feel secure about preserving rice farms and stop their conversion of rice fields for other purposes to increase revenues, I think we should have preferential policies for them.

One feasible policy is to give priority in budget allocation to localities with large areas under rice.

In a draft decree on management of rice paddies, we have a provision saying the Government will allocate extra funds to localities that retain rice lands and have zoned rice-growing areas.

To retain paddies, farmers need to be attached to their lands and should be able to become rich by growing rice. But now they are poor. How will the Government support them?

To attract farmers to their fields and share their current difficulties and risks, we are drafting three policies.

First, the Government will support farmers with inputs, such as by providing 100 per cent of rice seedlings required by farmers who co-operate to grow rice on a large scale in the first year.

Second, when there are natural disasters and diseases too, the Government will provide the seedlings and 75 per cent of inputs like fertilisers and pesticides.

Third, it will recompense farmers the cost of labour involved in creating new rice paddies and reviving exhausted rice fields.

To ensure farmers have outlets for their rice and a profit of 30 per cent, we need to support businesses through interest rate subsidies and a stabilisation fund so they can buy farmers' produce including for storing when necessary.

We plan to raise money for the stabilisation fund by collecting 0.2 per cent of rice export revenues. The fund will be used to support farmers and firms.

In addition, the Government will implement several policies to help farmers become wealthy by growing rice. — VNS

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