Salt farmers edgy about plans to boost supply

Update: June, 20/2008 - 00:00

Salt farmers edgy about plans to boost supply


Salt farmers in Binh Dinh Province’s Cat Minh Commune collect salt. — VNA/VNS Photo Pham Biet

HCM CITY — A Government proposal on salt imports for the year that underestimated the volume of this year’s domestic salt production has raised concerns among salt makers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta region, following a bumper harvest this year.

Salt-makers say the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Develop-ment’s proposal, based on a prediction that salt production in 2008 may fall by 30 per cent compared with last year, is not in line with the good harvests the sector has reaped in most salt-making areas.

The domestic salt sector is worried that salt makers won’t be able to maximise profits if the salt market is flooded with too much imported salt.

Bac Lieu, which has the largest area of salt production in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta area, has 2,100 ha of salt marshes.

Big boats have flocked to Bac Lieu’s Dong Hai District to buy salt at VND1.4 million (US$900) a tonne, a two-fold increase compared with prices last year.

Bay An, a salt maker in Long Dien Dong commune says: "I’ve earned VND36 million from selling 50 tonnes of salt recently, more than double my income last year."

Like Bay An, other salt farmers in the commune have had good harvests, with incomes three or four times higher than three years ago.

The income has helped many families repair houses and buy motorbikes and television sets.

Luong Ngoc Lan, deputy director of Bac Lieu provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, says the province’s salt output reached 90,800 tonnes this year, ensuring a sufficient supply for other Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta provinces.

"Salt makers in the area now have about 45,000 tonnes of salt in storage, and they’re waiting for prices to increase more," says Lan.

In Ben Tre Province, salt fields have doubled to 1,400 ha as a result of a sharp rise in the salt price.

Over the last two years, salt fields have expanded rapidly, surpassing the local authorities’ plans.

With the current price, local farmers in Ben Tre are able to earn an income of VND60-70 million per ha, says Nguyen Van Cao, vice chairman of Bao Thanh Commune’s People’s Committee in Ba Tri District.

Kieu Van Chue, deputy director of Ben Tre Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, says salt-producing areas are expected to expand further.

"I’ve still got more than 100 tonnes of salt in storage and many traders come to buy but I refuse to sell," says Ba Dong from Binh Dien Village in Long Dien Dong Commune of Dong Hai District.

"Last year the price increased sharply at the end of the salt-season, thus I don’t want to sell at this time."

According to Le Van Dau, director of Dong Hai Salt Production Company in Bac Lieu Province, the company is still operating smoothly and meeting demand in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta area.

Meanwhile, in Ninh Thuan and Thanh Hoa Provinces, salt makers are also enjoying good harvests with productivity increasing by 20 per cent in comparison to last year’s figures.

Why import salt?

Despite a bumper salt harvest, the ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development and Industry and Trade last month proposed that the Government increase salt imports this year.

It was expected that salt production would reach 940,000 tonnes this year, 300,000 tonnes lower than the year’s target, said Pham Cong Dung, head of the Trade Unit of the Salt and Agricultural and Forestry Products Process and Trade Department.

However, he said salt imports should be based on home consumption and industrial production.

Salt farmer Nguyen Van Thong, from Vinh Thinh Commune in Hoa Binh District of Bac Lieu Province, says the local sector is preparing a proposal to the Government calling for no salt imports.

"Salt imports would cause us a lot of trouble if the price of salt decreases," he says.

"Moreover, we are going to produce more salt, there won’t be a lack of salt this year."

Salt makers in Tra Vinh Province are also concerned about the Government’s off-target import proposal. According to Phan Thai Hung, chairman of Dan Thanh Commune’s People’s Committee, salt makers in Dan Thanh and Dong Hai communes of Duyen Hai District have already made a proposal to the Government not to import salt this year.

"In stead, the Government should focus on finding support policies to help salt makers widen their production area," says Hung. — VNS