High-yield crops to replace rice

Update: March, 25/2014 - 10:28

Viet Nam will transition 100,000 hectares of rice-growing areas to cultivate other crops, Pham Van Du, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's Crop Production Department told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Do you think the decision will help to cut down the volume of annual animal feed imports by the country?

The old concept of food security is no longer appropriate for the current times, as many countries have adopted the policy of self-sufficiency in food production. If Viet Nam continues to focus its efforts on rice production, it will undoubtedly face difficulties in rice exports. In the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, there are three main crops in a year: winter-spring, summer-autumn, and winter-autumn crops. Of the three crops, summer-autumn is entirely in the dry season, so drought is a major problem that hinders the growth of rice plants. As a result, its yield is the lowest among the three crops.

Based on these facts, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has proposed to reduce the rice plantation acreage for the summer-autumn crop to plant other crops.

It is a well-known fact that moving over from rice to other crop production cannot be achieved overnight. It will take time to conduct some pilots to convince the farmers that crop production will bring more benefits to them than rice production. In addition, the change will also depend on the prevalent conditions in each locality.

However, the objective of the change is to stabilise the acreage put under rice production and to establish regions specialised in growing maize and soybean. We plan to grow maize on an area of 100,000-150,000 hectares in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta. The current yield of maize is between 6-7 tonnes per hectare per crop.

So, if 100,000 hectares of rice-growing area is used for maize cultivation, we will produce from 600,000-700,000 tonnes of maize per crop. This means that the volume of imported maize for animal feed will drop considerably.

Does you department have solid evidence on the effectiveness of maize over rice crops?

We have conducted several demonstrations on plots in the provinces of Long An, Vinh Long, Dong Thap, and An Giang. All the results show that maize production brings between 30-100 per cent higher returns than that of rice. However, if we want to ensure success while moving over from rice to maize cultivation in a farming area of 100,000 hectares, the government should invest in infrastructure development and develop high-quality maize varieties and subsidise the seeds for the farmers. What is most important is that the government should be able to ensure viable output for crops planted on the converted land.

Besides the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, which areas will move from rice to maize cultivation?

The Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta and the Dong Nam bo (South East region) are the two regions having climatic conditions suitable to switch from rice cultivation to growing maize and soybean. However, crop and plant restructuring need further study before making the final decision.

However, with a good irrigation system in place and the farmers' rich knowledge on extensive agricultural activities, the South East region is ideal for us to switch from rice to maize production. But, the challenge we are facing is the shortage of labour force and the fact that industrial development is encroaching on the farming areas in the region.

What are the other problems faced by the farmers if they agree to change from rice to other crop plantation?

Viet Nam has invested in rice cultivation for nearly 40 years. Most of the rural agricultural infrastructure has focused on rice cultivation and processing. So, it is not easy to switch to other crops in a short period of time. In addition, we also need time to prepare for maize procurement and processing, including capital resources, drying yards, and processing machines.

Last but not the least, we need more time to conduct research on production procedures for each type of crop in different bio sub-regions. As of now, we do not have the relevant experience in advance technology in the field of crop plantation, except for wet rice. — VNS