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Viet Nam eyes reduction in seed imports

Update: August, 25/2014 - 09:09

Viet Nam has to learn from other countries in producing high-yield plant seeds, vice chairman of the Viet Nam Seed Trade Association Le Quoc Hung told newspaper Nong thon Ngay nay (Countryside Today).

In 2013, Viet Nam spent US$500 million importing various types of plant seeds. Why did we have to spend such a huge sum of money to import seeds when we have all the necessary conditions to produce our own?

I think the sum of $500 million is still modest. Viet Nam may have to spend much more on importing plant seeds.

In fact, a 20-year national seed programme has been approved by the Prime Minister with an open investment budget. By 2010, some VND 20 trillion ($943 million) from both the central and local government was invested in the programme.

The way we use public money is like the saying "pouring the money down the drain." Many projects have been conducted, but their results were poor.

Though the government has adopted a number of policies to support the national seed programme, the impacts of these policies are limited. Coupled with that is the weak capability of our scientists. They just stop at description science and lack the capacity for molecular research. Nowadays, our research institutes and enterprises can produce seeds for between 5-10 seed species focused on rice, maize, rubber, coffee and pepper.

When it comes to high-quality vegetables like cabbages and cauliflower or tubers and roots, we still have to import.

I remember when in the past we had Ha Giang and Yen Bai kohlrabi species. But the productivity and quality of these kohlrabi species was so low, they disappeared and were replaced by the imported species.

Furthermore, due to our poor science and technology, our hybrid seed production simply stops at F1, as in the case of seedless oranges. To produce super seeds, foreign seed companies have to spend hundreds of billions of dong.

With investment of only dozens of billions of dong, how can our seed companies produce super seeds comparable to those of their foreign peers?

As you mentioned, our science and technology sector is still limited, so we have to import seeds. Why don't we invest more money on importing advanced technology?

If we could import advanced technology, that would be great. At present, many foreign companies are willing to sell the super seeds, but not the technology!

Recently some foreign corporations have entered Viet Nam's vegetable seeds market with the goal of selling their products, rather than investing in research or transferring technology to Vietnamese partners.

In my opinion, the government should introduce policies to attract foreign companies to invest in seed research and development. This is a good way for Vietnamese companies to learn from them.

The other point I want to mention is that it is high time for our country to have policies to encourage Vietnamese companies to focus more on seed research, particularly in human resources development.

According to reports, at present up to 80 per cent of seeds sold in our country are imported from foreign companies. What is your position on this?

I think it is time for us to change our thinking about this, as foreign enterprises are part and parcel of our economy. Their presence in our country means they bring along with them new technology and provide employment to our people, particularly farmers. We have to admit that their technology is far more advanced than ours, maybe even by a hundred years.

If we view this in terms of money, one kg of their seeds costs several million dong. With one kg of those seeds we can produce 50-60 tonnes of products. Our seeds are much cheaper, but their yield is just about one-third of that of foreign seeds – about 20 tonnes. If you were a farmer, what seeds would you prefer to buy?

Regarding Vietnamese seed enterprises, there are several ways for them to improve their competitiveness in order to compete with foreign companies. For example, they could hire foreign managers or start joint ventures with a foreign company, or act as a distributor for a foreign company and then little by little learn their technique. A case in point is the An Giang Pesticide company. At first, it acted as a distributor for the Syngenta Group, then as time went by, it grew up and can now produce its own pesticides.

What should Viet Nam do to avoid being dependent on foreign seeds?

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should review all plant seeds and breeding animals nationwide to see their strong and weak points. From that review, the ministry will then come up with specific plans to enhance our strengths and improve our weaknesses by learning from foreign countries.

In addition, the government should give special incentives to enterprises specialising in seed production, including capital and human resources. — VNS

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