Viet Nam has abundant human resources in agriculture, but has not utilised them properly, Nguyen Van Bo, director of the Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today) newspaper.
Viet Nam is one of the world's top exporters of agricultural products, but why do we still have to depend on the import of high-quality crop varieties?
Viet Nam is now the 15th-largest exporter of agro-products in the world. However, till now we don't have plants with high quality and economic value. For example, we are a major rice exporter, but our rice is not known by any special brand name. The only name for our rice known outside Viet Nam is "Vietnamese white rice". When talking about rice from Thailand, people immediately think of "Jasmine rice" or "Khaodakmali"; or in the case of India and Pakistan, they talk about Basmati rice and others.
If we look back at the development of our rice species, I can say that in the past we paid most attention to high-yield varieties which could be transplanted in all seasons, just like the "khang dan rice", Q5 or IR50404 and a few others.
In addition, in the past we didn't pay much attention to rice-processing or investment. And traders didn't pay attention to rice production either. What they did was to buy rice grain from farmers, which they then processed and sold in the market.
In the past five years, as a result of the efforts our staff, the Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Sciences has developed quite a large number of varieties, but only 260 plant species have been recognised. Of these, 25 are of rice, 10 of maize, 10 of bean and 11 of coffee.
The figure 260 new plant species is quite big. Yet, these species have not been able to meet the production demand in terms of number, quality and productivity.
What we are facing now is the shortage of seed supply and plant degradation.
Another problem that I should mention is the lack of attention to the development of key plant groups in each region. As a result, while we have a wide varieties of species, very few are high-quality and pesticide-resistant.
Don't you think that we have a very strong contingent of agriculture researchers?
Yes, I don't deny that. We have almost 11,000 scientists and researchers nationwide. But we lack talented people or "leading" scientists. I have to concede that many of our current professors and associate professors are already in an advancing age, while the young and capable scientists are not many. The present salary structure is also low and this drives many young, talented scientists to leave public offices in favour of private enterprises or to set up their own business.
It is high time for Viet Nam to adopt favourable policies and grant special treatment to talented people. This is the only way we can retain good people to work for us.
Some people complain that scientific studies on agriculture are not valued in our country. This is the main reason why scientists cannot live on their salary. Do you agree?
In reality, the state budget allocated to scientific research in the past few years has increased at an average of 10-12 per cent per annum. Of course, the sum is too small to compare with other countries. But for us, it is a big encouragement from the government.
However, in my opinion, it is not an issue of how much money we have.
What matters is how the money is used. Why do I say so? Because we have not made the best of the meagre sum we have. In other words, people are the decisive factor in ensuring that money is used in the best possible manner. In this case, these people are the scientists.
It has been a practice in our country for quite a long time to focus too much on money management. This is wrong. Instead, we should focus on the management of the scientists, because they are the ones who decide how the money is spent. For example, we can build a million-dollar laboratory in three months, but it would take the user between 10-15 years to learn to use the equipment in that lab.
That's the reason I say it is imperative to have some leading scientists in some special fields. We should pay more attention to quality than to quantity at present. We all agree that our human resources, at present, are abundant, including people with doctorate or masters degrees. But how to tap their talent remains an open question.
If we want to attract many talented people to work in our primary industry, agriculture, how should we invest?
The most important thing, I would say, is the budget. But the money should not be spread out. I think 70 per cent of the budget should be invested in main tasks and scientists and researchers who are engaged in these tasks.
The remaining 30 per cent should be used in other activities. However, in the plan we have to set priorities for each period. For example, for rice variety development, we should focus on those that will produce rice that is of high-quality and isadaptable to climatic change.
Last but not the least, the procedure of selecting research topics is also important. I think that we must change it. According to the present practice, there are three steps in the selection procedure. Step 1: the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) asks scientists to come up with research ideas. Step 2: the scientists submit their research topics.
And finally, the ministry calls for public bids on topics selected by a selection council established by the ministry. All scientists and individuals who are interested in the research topic are called to participate in the bid. The winner is the one who offers the lowest price.
The winner is then be asked to write an outline of the project details to send to the authorities for consideration and approval. But now I think such a procedure should be changed. Along with the tendering system, we should also practice "giving the assignment" on important and essential topics to capable individuals or units to undertake.
That means the research topics should come from practical demand, not from the scientists themselves. In other words, a demand for the application of the research topic already exists when the research is undertaken. — VNS