Viet Nam News
Tsutomu Takebe, special advisor to the Japan-Việt Nam Friendship Parliamentary Alliance, talks to Việt Nam News about the potentials for agriculture co-operation between the two countries
What’s your assessment of Vietnamese agriculture?
Việt Nam’s economic growth remains relatively significant in Asia and Vietnamese agricultural sector has huge potential. In the coming time, strengthening Việt Nam-Japan agricultural collaboration might help Việt Nam become the country with world’s leading agricultural sector.
Việt Nam has put its focus on industrialisation. I think industrialisation is necessary but Việt Nam needs to review its potential in the agricultural sector in order to make well-laid plans in the future.
In spite of its huge agricultural potential, productivity of the sector remains low. Việt Nam’s farm produce is struggling to meet international standards, for example, food safety criteria for export and increasing its added value.
To address problems related to international standards and productivity increases, Việt Nam can learn from Japan’s experience, not only its successes but also its failures.
For example, the number of employees in Japanese rural areas is on a sharp decline. We have almost no young workers there, only the elderly. Rural festivals no longer keep their traditional features as before.
As Việt Nam is developing its economy, Vietnamese rural areas might face the same problems as Japan. In my opinion, the two countries should foster co-operation, especially in the agricultural sector so that Việt Nam can learn from Japan’s experience and launch effective plans in the future.
Could you explain Japan’s agriculture models that can be applied in Việt Nam?
In 2011 when I was working as Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, mad cow disease broke out in Japan. We found out that the ministry at that time paid due attention to producers, but not much to consumers’ rights.
The ministry then made drastic reforms, one of which was to shift from attention on producers to attention on consumers. We studied what consumers want in order to develop solutions relevant to consumers’ wishes.
Việt Nam has a policy of agriculture, rural areas and farmers, called tam nông. In other words, the policies aim at producing fresh, clean food and building rural areas.
Rural areas have fresh air, beautiful landscapes and no traffic congestion, which cities do not have. On the other hand, urban areas have attractive features such as employment, infrastructure and education.
I think Việt Nam should have policies which connect urban areas with rural areas and bring the attractive features of cities to rural areas so that people in the countryside can enjoy these benefits. This helps create balance for Việt Nam’s economic growth.
Instead of focusing on industrialisation, Việt Nam should set its development target on agriculture and related sectors such as food processing in order to create a big driving force for economic growth.
What specific agricultural co-operation opportunities do you think that Việt Nam and Japan can promote in the future?
In my viewpoint, there are three opportunities.
The first is human resources. Việt Nam’s agriculture workforce is large, while Japan faces a shortage of agricultural workers.
Vietnamese trainees have come to Japan to study and work in the agricultural sector, especially in Hokkaido, which is also my hometown. In the winter, when harvest cultivation is suspended due to cold weather, the trainees are offered the chance to work at farm produce processing, classifying factories or at supermarkets and co-operatives.
The question is whether the trainees can apply or have the conditions to apply what they learned in Japan when they come back to Việt Nam. To create conditions for trainees to apply their experience in Vietnamese agriculture, the sector’s leaders must have an understanding of Japanese agriculture. They must go to Japan to study, not only for one or two weeks but six months to one year to be able to apply what they have learned in Việt Nam.
Secondly, Japan is experienced in infrastructure construction in agriculture such as roads, irrigation works and in land planning to conduct efficient mechanisation. Mechanisation will be a difficult task without standardised land planning. For example, a 0.5-ha land plot is not big enough to operate a tractor. For that, we need a bigger land plot.
I think improving and making plans on agricultural land and building infrastructure which is able to respond to natural disasters are areas for potential cooperation between the two sides.
Thirdly, Việt Nam and Japan can expand co-operation not only in agriculture but also in related fields that Japanese enterprises are concerned about, such as farm produce processing.
I believe that the bilateral co-operation in agriculture will bolster the development of the Vietnamese agricultural field in particular and its economy in general. It will bring benefits to both countries as well. — VNS